By Ranja rayan
With the Land Boundary Agreement wrapped up, India and Bangladesh can look forward to boosting their trade and connectivity with the inking of milestone accords on coastal shipping and the opening up of Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh to bilateral commerce.
On June 6, during the visit of Prime Minister rendra Modi to Dhaka, India and Bangladesh inked the agreement on Coastal Shipping for two-way trade through ports; renewed the 1972 Protocol on Inland Waterways Transit and Trade (PIWTT) for using their waterways for commerce; and signed an MoU for use of Chittagong and Mongla Ports for movement of goods to and from India.
The agreements will help to greatly reduce not only the time in shipping goods but also costs, besides making optimum use of the ports, inland waterways and roads.
The Chittagong and Mongla ports, along with Kolkata port and Haldia dock system, are located in the Ganga delta. According to the agreement, the two Bangladesh ports can be used by India to ship goods to its landlocked states in the northeast - to Agartala in Tripura, to Dawki in Meghalaya or to Sutarkandi in Assam - either through waterways, rail or road,
Earlier, the shipping cargo between the two countries had to take the long route - reaching ports in either country through either Colombo, Singapore or Klang, in Malaysia.
Not only will India get easier access to its northeast, Bangladesnh will also get transit through India into Nepal and Bhutan, according to the renewed Bilateral Trade Agreement inked in 1972. This also gives a fillip to connectivity in the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal sub-regiol grouping of SAARC.
The agreement on use of Chittagong and Mongla ports was reportedly set to have been inked in 2011, but after the Teesta agreement fell through, Bangladesh backed out of signing the deal.
Bangladesh is now constructing a bridge with Indian help on the Feni river that will connect with Sabroom, in south Tripura district, on the India-Bangladesh border. The bridge will provide direct connectivity between Chittagong port, which has been upgraded by Chi, to Sabroom, about 75 km away, via a new road being built from Chittagong.
Another connectivity link is the 15-km railway between Agartala and Akhaura in Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh, which is to be completed in 2017. Akhaura has a rail link to Chittagong too. Once the Agartala-Akhaura railway link is ready, goods brought to Chittagong port can be carried by rail directly to Agartala.
The northeastern states can also export and import goods through the Chittagong port.
Though India and Bangladesh share an over 1,000 km of riverrine border, the trade traffic between the two takes place mostly on the congested land border. The sea trade route has not been used much.
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar summed up the gains, after the inking of the agreements in Dhaka, saying: “As of now, the bulk of our trade takes place across the land border, and to the extent that we have sea trade this is done through distant ports. The goods are taken to distant ports and then they are reloaded into feeder vessels which then bring them into Chittagong. What this Coastal Shipping Agreement would do is basically eble the direct regular movement of ships between India and Bangladesh, which would bring the shipping time down from 30 to 40 days on average to seven to 10 days.”
The two trans-border bus services on the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati route iugurated during Modi’s visit are also set to boost connectivity and people-to-people links.
Earlier, travelling from Kolkata to Agartala, a distance of 1,675 km, would take over 30 hours. The new trans-border route, linking Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala is set to cut distance by over 600 km.
Capt. I. Kharbanda, general mager with MSI Shipping Services India Pvt. Ltd., said the access to Chittagong and Mongla ports and the inland waters agreement would be very beneficial to Indian shipping as ships from Sandheads, at the mouth of the Hooghly river, would earlier return empty after unloading their cargo.
“Ships can now load flyash from Bangladesh and bring it on their return journey. The ships can now carry loads on both journeys,” Kharbanda told IANS. “The development will now get more people interested as they can get cargo from both sides,” he said.
(Ranja rayan can be contacted at ranja.n @ians.in)