Bangladesh allows transit for foodgrains for northeast India

Agartala, May 25 (IANS) In a major policy change, Bangladesh will allow India ferry foodgrains for the mountainous northeastern states via its territory, a Tripura minister said here.

“Initially, the Bangladesh government has agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura through its territory,” Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha told IANS.

“The Bangladesh government issued necessary orders earlier this week following a series of diplomatic and other parleys. After some security-related clearance, the carrying of food grains, mainly rice and wheat, is likely to start within a month,” he added.

B.K. Roy, principal secretary, food and civil supplies, said that after getting a green signal from Dhaka, FCI (the Food Corporation of India) had initiated the process to transport food grains and essentials using the Bangladeshi river port in eastern Bangladesh and the roadways connected to the northeastern states.

The FCI had earlier floated tenders to select the transporters. In the first consignment, 10,000 tonnes of rice, wheat and sugar would be ferried to Tripura from West Bengal’s Haldia port via the Ashuganj port.

“After Tripura, foodgrains would be ferried through Bangladesh for other northeastern states, including Mizoram, Manipur and southern Assam to save time and costs,” a FCI official said.

“Due to shortage of rail wagons, inadequate storage facilities and various other bottlenecks, the northeastern states have been suffering from poor supply of food grains for most part of the year, especially during the monsoon,” the minister said.

Surface connectivity is a key factor as the hilly region is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal.

During the monsoon season (June to September), road transport becomes very difficult in the mountainous region due to floods and landslides. For ferrying essentials, goods and heavy machinery from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been asking Bangladesh land, sea and rail access to the northeast.

Agartala via Guwahati, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi. The distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

Earlier, Dhaka had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to transport over dimensional cargos (ODCs) for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura using the Ashuganj port, 40 km west of Agartala city.

The FCI would carry the food grains in association with Inland Water Transport Authority (IWTA).

Bangladesh media meanwhile quoting the country’s commerce ministry reported that transhipment under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) between Bangladesh and India can be allowed.

“Nepal and Bhutan are also interested in the transit and transhipment facilities to spur their external trade activities,” said a report.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected]).

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