The India-Bangladesh relations are likely to see a new phase in its bilateral relationship with reviving of the pre-partition mode of connectivity through riverine transportation.
Recently the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has permitted ferrying of goods vessels by waterway between the Sonamura port in Tripura and Daudkand under Cumilla in the neighbouring nation. It was approved on May 20 this year and included in the second addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between India and Bangladesh.
Inland vessels of both the countries can move on the designated protocol route and dock at Ports of Call in each country, for unloading or loading of cargo under this Protocol. This will greatly facilitate the bilateral trade, with cost-effectiveness for the business community and improved reliability among the people of both the countries.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, a leading business leader and president, India Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bangladesh said, “Waterways is the cheapest mode of transportation with minimal maintenance cost and thus the new riverine movement of cargo vessels under the Protocol route will be a game-changer carrying both the transit cargo to North East region of India and vice-versa and export-cargo to Bangladesh.”
According to him the business fraternity of Bangladesh and India welcomed the move between the nations toward improving connectivity with neighbours and hope very soon Bangladesh would bring relaxation in its policy towards investing in its neighbouring nation like India and which shall strengthen the bilateral relation.
He added, “It will be win-win for both Bangladesh and India, export from Bangladesh to Tripura, which already is several hundred times more through this region of northeast India will further increase as transportation cost will further reduce and thus it may attract investment to Tripura. On the contrary various states of the region including Tripura shall also be benefitted as shall be able to transport products to other parts of India or the globe using this waterway.”
The 93 kilometer length of the Sonamura-Daudkandi route through the stretch of the Gumati river is Tripura’s first protocol route. Already the Tripura government with the help of the Ministry of Shipping has set up a temporary jetty at Sonamura, which is very close to the border.
During the first week of September next, the trial run of vessels carrying goods by waterway between Daudkandi and Sonamura is scheduled.
Roknoor Navigation Limited of Chittagong during the trial will transport the first consignment in a barge consisting of 1,000 bags of cement weighing 50 MT from Dhaka to Sonamura.
Tushar Kanti Chakraborty, President, All Tripura Merchant Association welcomed the decision of opening of waterways between Tripura and Bangladesh and viewed that in Princely rule Tripura the state had connectivity through four of its major river with erstwhile East Bengal and now again the state is going to restart connectivity through one of its river.
He thanked the Prime Minister of India and Bangladesh besides giving credit to Tripura’s Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb for taking the personal initiative in expediting the work.
“This river connectivity will be a welcome move from the business community of both nations. We believe that the stronger is our business, the stronger will be the relation between the two nations. Bangladesh products will be cheaper to some extent as transportation cost will come down and India’s northeastern states can also export or bring raw materials for industries using this mode of communication, which will be comparatively cheaper and less troublesome than sending them through the existing serpentine mountainous routes,” said Chakraborty.
He added, “Tripura will be greatly beneficial out of it as it will pour in investment for industrialisation and a lot of employment shall be created turning the once disadvantageous landlocked position with foreign border on three sides into an advantage.”
However, Chakraborty apprehended that though the trial of the route will be done in the rainy season but for the movement of vessels in the Gumati river needs dredging, and which is likely to be carried out in the next winter season when the water level is down. Moreover, there are 23 bridges on the Bangladesh side that may create an obstruction for the movement of vessels if the water level rises.
The waterway route is set to further improve the connectivity of Tripura and its adjoining states with economic centres of Bangladesh’s, which will give both countries hinterland a boost by opening up more opportunities in trade and is an example of how through mutual cooperation two nations can be in a win-win position.