Assam: Trade and Commerce

Assam: Trade and Commerce:-

As Assam is the gateway of north-eastern India, the trade links of all the States like Meghalaya, Manipur , Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura with the rest of the countries are though Assam. Their trade is mostly conducted through the markets of Assam. So out of all the commodities which Assam imports,some portions are again exported to these states likewise their exports are also channelised through Assam. The border trade of North East India has immense possibilities. With a 5211 kms international border with Bangladesh,Myanmar,China and Bhutan,the volume of unofficial trade is estimated to be much more than that of official trade.

Course of trade :

It is hardly necessary to say that trade and commerce was not of any importance in the past in the sparsely populated constityent areas of this hill district where there were no towns or industry of any size. The primitive pattern of the tribal economy might have not warranted the growth of internal trade in the hills while some external trade with the neighbouring people was done in the bordering markets in the plains. Pretty mahajans from the plains frequently visited the hills and made a considerable business in forest products such as bamboo , cane and timber in the form of logs and posts having arranged into a raftknown as bhur or mar carried down through the hill streams, the important ghats in the plains for sale. The growth of the tea industry and the opening of the Railway line and the South Trunk Road touching some points of the district facilitated some external trade in respect of import of necessities required particularly for the extra growth of outsider- population. But the tribal mode of living in the hill tracts did not materially change to effect some exportable surplus of agricultural products. While diffusion of advanced civilisation to the tribal people was slow. However, the tribal people used to come down from the hills to the weekly or biweekly ‘hats’ or markets in the nearby plains and made some transactions. The fact that most of these trade centres now form part of the district helps the growth of both external and internal trade. Besides, growth of towns such as Diphu and Haflong and growth of industries like the Cement Factory at Bokajan and other development activities have now enhanced the importance of trade and commerce in all directions.

The internal trade is done to a great extent in the weekly and bi-weekly markets situated mostly in the plain areas where the villagers assemble to dispose of their surplus and collect their requirements. The village mahajans, itinerants and wholesale traders also a lot of business in these markets which serve as centres for distribution of agricultural products from surplus areas to deficit areas and also of imported goods. generally wholesale business is done in the two towns of Diphu and Haflong which also serve as retail-sale centres in local and imported goods, besides the retail shops.

Imports and exports, Volume, Value, etc.:Presently, the inter-state trade of Assam is mainly confined to neighbouring Indian states by road and rail transport. Prior to Indo-Pak conflict in 1965,considerable part of Assam’s external was with East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh). Moreover, trade with West Bengal was mostly carried on with river routes which lay through East Pakistan. But the conflict of 1965 led to the stoppage of trade with Pakistan and closure of river route causing deadlock to the navigation service and trade. With the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the river route has been opened up again and navigation service are under the management of the Central Inland Water Transport Corporation. Some trades with Bangladesh have also been resumed. The articles exported from the State though few in numbers are of considerable value. They consist mainly of tea, petroleum and petroleum products, coal, timber products, cane products, tea chests, jute, maize, cotton, bamboo, medicinal herbs and other miscellaneous products of small scale industries established in recent years in the State.


The principal item of export is tea which is considerable economic interest to this State. Out of country’s total production of about 300 million kgs. of tea,Assam products more than half of it. It is interesting to note that except for a small quantity of tea sold in the local markets,the entire output disposed of in the tea auction centres at Guwahati and Calcuta where from tea finds place in the international markets. In fact,tea industry is dependent on the export. The Govt.of India and Tea Board have taken various steps to improve the sale of tea in foreign countries.


Another principal item of export from the State is petroleum its products. The first oil refinery in India was established in the State at Digboi in the Tinsukia district and since its inception in 1899, this refinery is catering to the petroleum requirements of the country. The recent discovery of new oil-fields at Naharkatia, Hugrijan, Moran, Geleki, Nazira and at other places in the State, has given the State a prominent place in the oil map of India. The discovery is claimed to be of such importance that more than 50 per cent of India’s present requirement of petroleum may eventually come from the new oil-fields. To refine the newly found crude oil,two refineries under the public sector were established,one at Barauni in the State of Bihar with a refining capacity of three million tones per annum and another at Guwahati in Kamrup district with a refining capacity of 0.75 million tonne per annum. The new oil-fields at present are producing about 3.01 million tonnes of crude and this crude is refined in three refineries of Digboi,Guwahati and Barauni. The crude oil is transported to the refineries of Guwahati and Barauni through a pipeline. Another refinery cumpetro chemical complex has been established at Bongaigaon in Bongaigaondistrict to produce oxylene, polyster fibre, aromatic extract, etc., by using the wastes of the crude oil from the oil-fields of Upper Assam. The petroleum and other products of Digboi and Guwahati refineries are exported outside the State except the quantity required within the State. Thus, the oil resources of this region have helped the country a great deal in saving considerable foreign exchange. A new refinery is coming up at Numaligarh in Golaghati district.


Coal is another important item of export from the State. Assam produces about 1.3% of India’s total output of coal. About 80% to 85% of coal in Assam comes from the Makum coal fields. Its quality is described as inferior though among the various coal fields in Assam,coal of Makum fields is the best. Because of high sulphur content,this coal is said to be not suitable for metal-lurgical purposes. It is mostly consumed by tea gardens,railways and brick fields. Coal is also imported in sufficient quantity from Meghalaya. Formerly,market for Assam coal was only confined to the neighbouring states. But in recent years coal from Assam is being exported even to the far distant areas like Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan mainly by road transport.

Timber and products:-

Another important item of export of the State is timber and its products. It is exported in the form of logs, sleepers and even timbers. Products of plywood and hard board factories are also exported outside the State. Sufficient quantity of bamboos are exported to the Titaghar Paper Mill in West Bengal. Phool Jharu (Brooms)of Assam has a market throughout the country. Other items of export from forests are cane and its products, medicinal herbs like Sarpagandha, Banslochan, Agor,etc. Precious items of export are horn of rhinoceros and ivory which are exported to Jaipur in Rajasthan and such other places.


Maize is exported mainly to Bihar and U.P. Cotton produced in the hill areas of the State has a very good foreign demand not for its spinning value but for its coarseness and low waste content of the fibre. This is not good to spin to thread but ideally suited for mixing with wool. As such nearly whole of the product is exported to foreign countries. Products of eri and muga also has a very good market outside the State. The products of Assam Spun Silk Mill, Jagiroad commands good market in the foreign countries. Recently, a growing export demand for the products of the textile and other cottage and other cottage industries of Assam has been noticed. Though the products of these industries are facing some competition, yet they are developing their footholds in markets outside the State.

Other products:-

The main items of import of the State are various raw materials and machineries required for major and small scale industries, wheat and its products, pulses, gram, peas, onions, ground nuts, vegetables, spices of all kinds, oils, sugar, salt, chemical fertilizers, cement, C.I.sheets, iron materials, hardwares, paints and varnishes, tube-wells, pumps and pipes, cycles, motors, cars, trucks and tractors, clothes and garments, stationery articles and all other kinds of consumer goods. Imported articles like machineries, raw materials and manufactured articles are required to meet the local demands mainly from the tea gardens as also from the oil and other industries and the demand is increasing with the development of medium and small scale industries. Commodities like onions, garlics, spices, pulses and sugar are imported from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Mustard oil is imported from U.P. and salt from Rajasthan and West coast. Vegetables mainly come from Meghalaya and Bihar.

(b)Trade Centres :

Recently Assam government has decided to come up with International Trade Centre in Guwahati. State cabinet has approved land for centre which will have twin towers with 65 storeys. The international centre will have trade advisers office from different countries. Already Bangladesh government has an office in Guwahati. Bhutan has applied to government of India for opening consulate office in Guwahati.

Main centres of trade in the Karbi Anglong are Diphu, Howraghat and Bokajan ; Diphu being the trade headquarter. The wholesalers and other important traders operate from this town and in co-operation with their sub-agents and retailers in other trade centres.

Regulated Markets :

The State Govt. has created 4 Regulated Markets in the State under the Assam Agricultural Produce Market Act.,1972. The markets are located at Howly in Barpeta district,Gauripur in Dhubri district,Dhing in Nagaon district and Kharupetia in Darrang district. The purpose for forming the regulated market is to provide storage facilities,auction platforms,trades shops,retail shops,cattle sheds and weighing and grading facilities for the agricultural produces such as jute,rice,pulse,oil seeds,etc.,brought by the farmers for sale,so that they may not be deprived of their reasonable prices for the produce. Adequate utility services such as water supply,electricity,sewage disposal,etc.,are to be provided in the markets,to the extent possible.

Centres whole sale business :

Guwahati, the premier city is the most important centre of wholesale trade in the State. From ancient time,it has been a famous commercial centre. In the recent years,it has acquired a new dimension and serves not only vast areas of neighbouring districts but also of the whole North East India. One of the main factor that can be attributed to this growing importance of Guwahati as commercial centre is its unique location with regard to facilities of roads, railways, waterways and airways. Thus, having direct link with Calcutta and the outside world, Gauhati, known as the Gateway of Assam,has come to occupy a vital place not only in the economy of the State but also of the north eastern India. The river port at Pandu provides excellent facilities for export and import of goods through the river Brahmaputra. Considering its importance as an eminent trade centre and river port,proposals have been made to the Govt. of India to open one office of export and import at Guwahati. The recent opening of the Tea Auction Centre at Guawahati has given a new boost to its importance as a commercial centre of the State. In the context,it may be mentioned that loading and unloading of most of the exported and imported goods which are carried on railways are done in the new Guawahati Railway station near Noonmati. Fancy Bazar is the main shopping centre at Guwahati. Besides retail sale, almost whole of the wholesale business of the city is conducted from this place. Panbazar is the emporia of books and magazines. It is also shopping centre of Assam silk and handloom textiles.


Tinsukia is another important centre of wholesale business of the State. It is a distributing centre of all wholesale commodities to neighbouring places around. It was originally a small village. Several factors such as the opening of direct rail communication,growth of tea,oil and coal industry in the surrounding areas have helped Tinsukia to attain its present position. The discovery of oil wells has increase the importance of Tinsukia as this is the only distributing centre of petroleum products produced at Digboi. This is also an important food gains market of upper Assam and approximately 10 to 12 wagons of food-staffs are distributed daily to different parts of the locality from Tinsukia. Wholesale business in all important commodities such as foodstaff,cloth,etc.,are carried on from this centre on a large scale. The goods traffic of Tinsukia Railway Station is expanding from year to year. The tea and petroleum products are the major items of goods traffic. In recent years, the importance of Tinsukia has increased considerably because of establishment and expansion of steel processing and light engineer-ing industries and various fabrication workshops. From a centre of trade, Tinsukia has now achieved prominence as an industrial town in the north-eastern region of India. Among other important centres of wholesale business in the State mention may be made of Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Nagaon, Silchar, North Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Mangaldoi, Barpeta, Sibsagar, Hailakandi, Karimganj, Hojai, etc. Along with the wholesale business a great deal of retail business is also transacted in these centres.

However,the main centres of retail trade are weekly local markets or hats in the small towns and semiurban areas. Weekly hats are held on a particular day of the week for the conveniences both buyers and sellers. In tea gardens, these hats are usually held on pay-days. Except the urban people who visit daily bazars in towns both the villagers and the tea garden labourers are dependent on these hats for their daily necessities. Here the villagers sell their vegetables,rice, betel-nut and leaf,etc. In tea garden hats,the most important buyers are the labourers.

Fairs and melas :

Many fairs are held in different parts of the State,most of which go on for some days are attended by a large concourse of people. These fairs are seasonal and held on particular religious occasions such as Sivaratri,Dolyatra,Ashokastami,Rash-puja,Dashami,Bhathele, Diwali,etc. Apart from the merriment which marks these fairs,a good deal of buying and selling is also carried on. The congregation is generally comprised of villagers, a section of whom bring these products for sale. Petty traders from towns and other trading centres especially sweet-meat sellers, dealers of toys and balloon, hawkers, etc., visit the fairs with their wares.Assam: Trade and Commerce


There is co-operation and good understanding between wholesale and retail traders in the district. Market is dominated by the wholesalers who disseminate trade news to the retailers. There is , however, no fixed area in respect of wholesale and retail trade. Wholesale business is done side by side retail business in the trade centres as well as in the weekly markets. But, the wholesalers generally reside in the trade headquarters of Diphu and Haflong wherefrom they operate the business and control the markets. These traders are mainly Marwaris, Bengalis and a few up country men. The nature of cooperation between wholesale and retail-sale depends on the nature of business and volume of transactions and it differs from place to place. Financial cooperation depends upon reliability of the retailers whom the wholesalers help wit hcash and goods on credit for running the business.


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