In another first in Dhaka-New Delhi relations, the arrival of a vessel at Ashuganj in Bangladesh carrying Indian goods consigned for Tripura marks the first official transit to India’s North East via Bangladesh, agencies report
The consignment travelling down the shorter and cost-effective inland waterways route was officially received by Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan and Prime Minister’s Economic Affairs Adviser Mashiur Rahman on Thursday.
Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla termed it a ‘milestone’ in the relations while Khan said both sides would benefit from the arrangements. “Bangladeshi ships and trucks will be carrying goods, and jobs will be created for local people,” he said.
Mashiur, who played the key role in negotiating the arrangements, said people of both stand to gain from the exchange of goods and movement of people. The first of such consignment comprising iron products weighing 1004 metric tonnes arrived from Kolkata on board Indian ship New Tech-6.
This will be offloaded now and taken further to Agartala, Tripura by a 51-km long road. India is undertaking several projects to develop infrastructure at Ashuganj to facilitate trans-shipment of goods through Bangladesh.
The event was a memorable one with many present in Ashuganj bordering Indian state Tripura and they remembered India’s assistance during the War of Independence from Pakistan. Tripura sheltered nearly 2 million Bangladeshis in 1971 when its own population was only 400,000.
Rates for transhipment of goods were recently agreed on under the Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (PIWTT) between India and Bangladesh. The decision was taken during Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Dhaka visit last year.
Bangladesh and India, during the shipping secretary-level talks held in New Delhi in November 2015, agreed on the rates for trans-shipment of goods through Ashuganj to Tripura.
A river port to handle container, bulk and trade cargo and upgrading of the 51-km road into a four-lane road are two of the projects being implemented under the second Line of Credit that India has extended to Bangladesh.
The upgrading of the Akhaurha-Agartala rail link has also recently been sanctioned and was recently reviewed under the Indian prime minister’s Pragati programme. These projects, apart from strengthening infrastructure in Bangladesh, also provide for transit and trans-shipment through the river port.
It significantly reduces the distance between the East and North East of India as currently goods travel through the Siliguri corridor into Assam and further into other northeastern states. “India will be investing in creating infrastructure (Port, Road and Rail) in Ashuganj and Akhaurha, Bangladesh to facilitate smooth movement of goods,” High Commissioner Shringla said.
“This (allowing transit) is an extraordinary gesture of friendship of Bangladeshi people to the people of India,” he added. BIWDTA Joint Director (ports) SM Sharif said this was the first time that India was paying a fee for shipping its consignments through Bangladesh.
“A fee of Tk 192.22 per ton will be levied for such transhipment”, he said, as critics were saying that Bangladesh would hardly get anything out of this transit to India. “Additionally, Bangladesh will levy a slew of fees like voyage permission fee, landing fee, channel charge etc, thereby earning over Tk 0.215 million from the transhipment,” he added.
Adviser Mashiur also said India would give an annual fee for using the river route, which would be spent on “ensuring navigability” of the rivers it would use.
“Nobody will invest in rivers and roads if goods can’t be transported,” he said, adding that many government and development partners had already offered help to improve the transport networks.
The government will consider them, he said.