Vastly improving Indo-Bangladesh connectivity
Many Bangladeshis visit India for better medical treatment and educational facilities, quite apart from trade or business reasons.Road and river connectivity between India and Bangladesh has increased steadily following recent transit agreements. Border trade is expected to increase substantially, according to West Bengal-based exporters.
Both governments have taken some steps to hasten the process of regional economic integration, as bilateral trade shows encouraging signs of growth.
In a unique gesture, New Delhi and Dhaka merged the facilities and functioning of the largest land check post at the Petrapole (India) – Benapole (Bangladesh) point in North 24 Parganas some days ago. The move followed long-standing demands from traders and businesspeople in both countries. This checkpoint handles an estimated 70/80 percent of the import/export trade between the two nations, amounting to around $5 billion annually. Average footfall is estimated at 12,00,000, and the number of goods-carrying trucks has exceeded 150,000 annually.
The movement of goods and people has often been hit by labour agitations, congestion, law and order problems, and poor road conditions during the monsoon, in both countries. It is only recently that the West Bengal government started work to widen and improve existing roads. Political extremists in both countries have often attacked and harassed drivers and other operators.
Notwithstanding these, the sheer volume of bilateral business done here exceeds by far the aggregate of imports/exports carried out at other checkpoints.
The merging of the operational facilities has ensured faster customs checks and clearances, saving time and increasing efficiency through a system of joint official functioning. Encouraged by the results, both countries have now agreed to introduce a similar merging of operations at the Dawki checkpoint in Meghalaya, to facilitate easier trade between the Northeastern states and Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the first truck from Dhaka reached the Customs office at Patparganj in Delhi a few days ago, via Kolkata -- covering a distance of over 1800 kilometres. Earlier a vehicle from Kolkata had reached Agartala (Tripura) via Dhaka, on a trial run. These vehicles are equipped with GPS devices to enable authorities to track their movements in real time. They are provided with e-permits which means they are checked by Customs and other authorities only at the start and the end of their designated journeys.
Following provisions of the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Transport Agreement at Thimphu last October, now there will be no security or another checking anywhere else along the route, unlike what happened in the past. Operations have begun on the Kolkata-Khulna roadway as well.
Bangladesh has also allowed India to use its territory to maintain the supply of essential goods between Tripura and other NE states. Indian Oil authorities sent some fuel to Tripura which had been facing shortages, from Meghalaya through 135 kilometres within Bangladesh (Tamabil point) to Kailashsahar, Tripura. It has been agreed that petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene can be carried to Tripura for a specified period. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina agreed to a request from India "on humanitarian grounds".
The main advantage of moving goods within the NE region via Bangladesh for drivers is that it helps them avoid the long, serpentine National Highway 44, which becomes difficult to negotiate during the monsoon. The Food Corporation of India sent another consignment of 2350 kilos of rice for Tripura from Kolkata Port through the Bangladesh river route, last month.
India has agreed to introduce long-term visas for visiting Bangladeshis, following a request from Dhaka. The time limit for Bangladeshis staying here with official permission has just been increased from one to five years, along with a provision for a multipoint entry. Many Bangladeshis visit India regularly to ensure better medical treatment and educational facilities for their children and relatives, quite apart from trade or business reasons.
(The views are strictly personal.)