In a highly significant move that was evidently cleared at the highest level, Bangladesh is allowing India to ferry foodgrain to the landlocked northeastern states using its territory and infrastructure.
“To begin with, the Bangladesh government has under a special transit facility agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrain for Tripura via its territory,” Tripura’s Principal Secretary (Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs) B.K. Roy told IANS.
“After getting a green signal from the Bangladesh government, the FCI (Food Corporation of India) initiated the process of transporting foodgrain and essentials using the Ashuganj river port (in eastern Bangladesh) and the roadways connected to the northeastern states.”
“The FCI had earlier floated tenders to select Bangladeshi transporters. After a series of diplomatic and administrative parleys involving various Bangladeshi ministries and India’s food, finance, shipping and external affairs ministries, the long-pending matter was settled recently,” the official added.
Earlier, in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura. The Indian government had spent several millions of rupees to develop the port and related infrastructure.
“After Tripura, foodgrains would be ferried through Bangladesh for other northeastern states, including Mizoram, Manipur and southern Assam, to save time and costs, besides ensuring certainty,” an 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 (June to September),” Tripura’s Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Bhanulal Saha told IANS.
“In view of conversion of railway lines from metre gauge to broad gauge, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) would stop train services in Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam from October. In view of this, transportation of foodgrains and other essentials from different parts of the country to northeast India via Bangladesh is very vital,” the minister added.
The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on the bigger states of India for foodgrain and essential commodities.
Surface connectivity is a key factor as the mountainous 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, road transport becomes very difficult 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.
The FCI would carry the foodgrain via Bangladesh in association with the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).
Indian and Bangladeshi waterways connect West Bengal and Assam. The IWAI and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) are operating vessels on these routes.
The two neighbours share 2,979 km of land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundary and also share 54 rivers, including eight rivers flowing from Tripura.