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New Waterways on India-Bangladesh Foreign Secretaries’ Agenda

India

AGARTALA: The proposed waterways between India and Bangladesh would be discussed at the foreign secretary-level meeting in Dhaka in October, a top official has said. The Union DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) Ministry is prioritizing multi-modal connectivity in India’s northeastern region, including water connectivity, and has proposed 16 waterway projects, mostly involving Bangladesh.

Since 1972, four inland water routes between India and Bangladesh are operational. These are Kolkata-Pandu (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Kolkata-Karimganj (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Rajshahi (in Bangladesh)-Dhulian (in southern Assam) and Karimganj-Pandu-Karimganj via Bangladesh. “The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) officials informed us that the proposed waterways between India and Bangladesh would be discussed in the next foreign secretary-level meeting in Dhaka in October,” Tripura government’s Principal Secretary (Transport) Laihlia Darlong said.

“The Rs 2483 crore proposed waterway (project) between Tripura and Bangladesh would also be discussed in the foreign secretary-level meeting. The entire expenditure of the new waterway projects would be born by the Indian government,” he added.

“The IWAI officials also informed us that the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the proposed 18 km waterway between Gomati (Tripura) and Meghna (Bangladesh) would be finalized by September.”

Darlong said that to create the new waterway between the two countries, 15 km dredging has to be done in the Meghna river in Bangladesh and three km in Tripura’s Gomati river. “A joint technical committee of India and Bangladesh had recently visited the proposed site at Sonamura in western Tripura, where the IWAI would construct the terminal for the proposed river waterway,” he added.

After becoming Tripura Chief Minister, Biplab Kumar Deb undertook the proposed waterway on a priority basis as it is a fuel-efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport between the mountainous northeastern state and Bangladesh. “The Chief Minister discussed the proposed waterway with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shipping Minister Mansukh L. Mandaviya. The Prime Minister appreciated the Chief Minister for proposing the new waterway project, “an official of the Chief Minister’s secretariat said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, under the five-year (2017-2021) “Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia” project has also conducted a study to promote cross border trade and tourism through waterways.

CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that cross-border tourism, trade, transit, and transport via inland waterways between India and Bangladesh through the Meghna basin is another exciting prospect for the riverine communities in this region. “This is primarily due to two reasons — increasing local trade will enhance the economic growth of the region, and involving local communities can ensure the benefit-sharing of resources and governance cooperation. In this context, the present study has been successful in creating evidence of cross-border trade along the short trans-boundary stretches in Barak, Gomati and Haora rivers of the Meghna basin,” Chatterjee stated.

“Prospects of community-based tourism in supplementing the income of tribal communities in damous archaeological site Chabimura (in southern Tripura) and Dawki (in Meghalaya). Previous studies by CUTS on Ganga and Brahmaputra basins indicate that tourism, trade, transit, and transport via inland waterways has been successful in creating ownership among riverine communities,” he added.

India and Bangladesh have a 2,979 km land border and 1,116 km of the riverine boundary. They also share 54 common rivers, including the Brahmaputra. India’s West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam, and Tripura share the 4,096-km border with Bangladesh. Tripura and other northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, and China on three sides and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal by Siliguri or the Chicken’s Neck corridor.

The lengthy route from Assam passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends. The distance between Kolkata and Agartala is about 1,650 km if one skirts Bangladesh. But the distance falls to only 515 km if transportation is through Bangladesh.

India has for long pressed for using Bangladeshi waterways and ports, especially for easy transport of Indian goods from Kolkata and other mainland cities to northeastern states through that country. The previous Left Front government in Tripura had also stressed the use of waterways through Bangladesh for economic growth and other benefits to the northeastern states.

“Prior to partition in 1947, Tripura was seamlessly connected to India through Bangladesh by road, rail, and waterways which need to be restored. There is an urgent need for transit and trans-shipment facility through Bangladesh,” former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had earlier urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a written memorandum. (IANS)

Also Read: Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb Urges New Waterways With Bangladesh