India has taken the first steps to construct a Rs.70 crore ($11.5 million) bridge over the Feni river in Tripura to access Bangladeshi ports for transporting goods and heavy machinery from other parts of the country to the landlocked and mountainous northeast and to boost trade and tourism, officials said.
“The Tripura government has asked a New Delhi-based private company to prepare the detailed project report (DPR). We expect that the DPR would be ready by December this year and the actual work to construct the bridge would start after that,” Tripura Public Works Department engineer-in-chief Sunil Bhowmik told IANS.
Once the 150-metre reinforced cement concrete (RCC) bridge is constructed, India’s mountainous northeastern states would be able to access Chittagong international port and other ports in Bangladesh to ferry heavy equipment, foodgrain and other essentials from various parts of the country and abroad.
The Bangladesh government has already agreed to allow India to use Chittagong port, about 75 km from Tripura’s southern border town of Sabroom.
India is already using Ashuganj port on the river Meghna in eastern Bangladesh, which is around 40 km from Tripura, for transhipments. The Indian government has spent several millions of rupees to develop the port and its related infrastructure.
“The Tripura government would be spending Rs 60 lakh on preparing the DPR. Tripura’s industry and commerce department is the nodal department to build the bridge,” Bhowmik said.
“The site, alignment and other technical details were finalised after a series of joint visits by officials of the Indian and Bangladeshi governments,” he added.
Officials of the industry and commerce department said the Indian government would provide funds from the Assistance to States for Developing Export Infrastructure and Allied Activities (ASIDE) scheme to construct the bridge at par with international standards.
The Indian and Bangladesh governments agreed to construct the bridge after Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar urged both New Delhi and Dhaka to do so to resolve the decades-old problem of transporting goods from different parts of India and abroad to the northeastern states.
This transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as surface connectivity is a key factor for the northeastern region, which is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.
There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern states from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends.
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.
“The proposed bridge over the river Feni would not only be easier to ferry goods and heavy machinery to the region, it would also greatly boost the trade between Bangladesh and northeastern states,” Tripura industry and commerce department special secretary Pravin L. Agrawal told IANS.
“Bangladesh has long ago announced it would provide India access to all its ports. Bangladesh would also benefit if its ports are used by India,” he added.
Agrawal said that tourism of the two countries would also be boosted once easier connectivity was established between them.
Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram have undertaken to develop various tourism-related amenities and infrastructure along their bordering areas. The four states share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh.
On an average, the distance between important cities of Bangladesh and northeastern India is 5 km to 50 km.
Meanwhile, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has started preliminary work to extend its network up to the Bangladeshi border town and railway station of Akhaurah, just six km from the Agartala railway station.
In a first, a 5,000 tonne consignment of rice, of a total of 10,000 tonnes, carried in small ships from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh reached Ashuganj port in eastern Bangladesh via Kolkata Aug 5. From Ashuganj, Bangladeshi trucks carried the rice to Food Corporation of India warehouses in Nandannagar near Agartala.
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.
– IANS | Agartala