After diplomatic and strategic parleys that lasted for nearly three years, for the first time rice from Andhra Pradesh reached Tripura via Bangladesh Thursday, an official said.
Three Bangladeshi trucks loaded with rice entered India through the Akhaura integrated check post Thursday afternoon in the presence of Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Tripura government officials.
“For the first time, Bangladeshi trucks transported rice from Ashuganj port in Bangladesh directly to the FCI warehouse at Nandannagar (on the outskirts of the capital city)…,” FCI general manager Bidol Tayeng told IANS.
The usual practice was to shift contents from Bangladeshi trucks to Indian trucks before entering Indian territory.
Tayeng said the external affairs ministry had earlier given clearances to allow Bangladeshi trucks 7 km inside Indian territory from Akhaura border.
“The trucks carrying rice will be going through truck scanners installed at the Akhaura checkpost,” he said.
The Tripura government made arrangements such as medical facilities, rest house and food for Bangladeshi truck drivers at the Nandannagar FCI depot, Tayeng added.
“The first consignment of 5,000 tonnes of rice in small ships from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh reached the Ashuganj river port in (eastern) Bangladesh via Kolkata port Aug 5,” Tayeng said.
He said around 20 trucks each carrying 17 tonnes of rice are expected to arrive in Agartala everyday from Ashuganj port for the next 12 to 13 days from Thursday.
Tripura Food, Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha said: “The rice is being ferried via Bangladesh to avoid the long and mountainous surface road up to Tripura via Assam and Meghalaya.”
Another 5,000 tonnes of rice will be similarly ferried to Tripura in the next phase.
Ashuganj river port in eastern Bangladesh is around 40 km from Agartala. The trucks will reach Agartala from Ashuganj in Brahmanbaria district of Chittagong division of Bangladesh within two hours.
The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on Punjab and Haryana for foodgrains and essential commodities.
The minister said train services in Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam will be stopped from October this year to June next year as the tracks will be converted from metre gauge to broad gauge.
“In view of this, carrying foodgrains and other essentials from different parts of the country to the northeastern states of India via Bangladesh is very vital,” he added.
The Bangladesh government agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura across its territory without charging any duty under a special transit facility.
The move came after diplomatic and strategic parleys that went on for three years.
On getting a positive response from Bangladesh, the FCI started the process three years back to transport foodgrains and essentials from southern India using the Ashuganj river port, Tayeng said.
“The FCI had earlier floated tenders to select Bangladeshi transporters. After a series of diplomatic and administrative parleys involving various Indian and Bangladeshi ministries, the long pending matter was settled recently,” an official of Tripura’s food, civil supplies department told IANS.
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 port 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, it is likely that foodgrains will be ferried in a similar fashion for other northeastern states, the FCI official said.
A Tripura minister said the northeastern states suffer from poor foodgrain supply due to shortage of rail wagons and inadequate storage facilities, beside other issues.
Surface connectivity is a key factor as the region is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.
The only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal.
For instance, Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.