The coastal shipping line between India and Bangladesh has facilitated trade between the two countries, as shipping times went down from about a month to a week, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, said last Wednesday.
An agreement on a coastal shipping line was signed between Bangladesh and India during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country in June last year. The first cargo ship under this agreement sailed from Chittagong to Vishakhapatnam in March this year.
Shringla spoke at a seminar on ‘enhancing indo-bangla waterways connectivity,’ which was organised by the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Sonargaon Hotel, Dhaka.
The coastal shipping line has also decongested roads and land custom stations, through which most trade is taking place now, he added.
“Connectivity through the inland waterways and the coastal shipping line is an important part of our objective to create multi-modal transport links between India and Bangladesh,” he remarked.
Inland waterways hold great potential to boost bilateral trade and transit and to relieve pressure on the land ports, he said.
Bangladesh has witnessed a boost in trade with India as the time taken to transport goods has been reduced from a month to a week due to the coastal shipping line between the two countries
To facilitate trade and transit through the inland waterways, India and Bangladesh have a Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (Piwtt) that has been operational since 1972.
The Piwtt was renewed for a period of five years, with provision for auto renewal during Modi’s visit.
The Piwtt permits the movement of goods over barges and vessels through the river systems of Bangladesh on eight specific routes between points in India and Bangladesh and between points in India through Bangladesh.
According to traffic statistics maintained by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (Biwta), the quantity of goods transported via the protocol routes has seen a more than twenty-fold increase since 2001-02.
“It may be mentioned here that nearly 99 per cent of the cargo is carried by the Bangladeshi vessels,” the high commissioner said.
The transhipment of goods to the North-eastern states under Piwtt through the Ashuganj river port and from there to Akhaura-Agartala by road also commenced in June 2016.
According to Biwta, three transhipment cargos have been sent to Tripura under this arrangement till date.
“We have also taken measures to facilitate the easy movement of seamen on the Piwtt routes. Crew members of Bangladeshi vessels can enjoy a 72-hour shore leave without visa on the basis of valid passports and a proof of employment,” he said.
In order to strengthen the infrastructure and facilitate the connectivity of waterways, India, in partnership with Bangladesh, is investing in establishing an Inland Container Port (ICP) at Ashuganj and in widening the existing road between the Akhaura Land Port and Ashuganj to four lanes.
These two projects are being implemented under the second line of credit worth $2bon to Bangladesh from India, and early completion is subject to the acquisition of land by the concerned Bangladeshi authorities.
India has suggested that the Pangaon ICP may be included as a ‘port of call’ under the Piwtt. This may be used as an interim measure till the Ashuganj ICP is completed, according to the high commissioner.
India currently provides 100m taka annually to Bangladesh for the maintenance of specific stretches of the protocol routes. In addition, India stands ready to work with Bangladesh for dredging any other sections or routes necessary to facilitate the smooth use of inland waterways between the two countries.
Shringla said India is ready to undertake a similar kind of Indian ‘Jal Marg Vikas Project’ in partnership with Bangladesh if the country wants. The Indian government has launched the project on the Ganga River to develop a three-metre deep fairway, which would enable commercial navigation of at least 1,500-tonne vessels on the river.
The construction of multimodal terminals, jetties, river information systems, channel marking, navigational lock, river training and conservancy works are to be undertaken as part of the project, he added.
It appears that the growth of inter-country trade cargo is very attractive, said Taskeen Ahmed, president of the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The total tonnage reached more than 19 lakhs in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, against about 9 lakhs in the 2006-2007 fiscal year.
Tofail Ahmed, commerce minister; Ranjit Barthakur, chairman of the North-East Council of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Tariq Ahmad Karim, former Bangladesh high commissioner to India, also spoke at the seminar.
Syed Munir Khasru, chairman of the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance, presented a keynote speech. —The Daily Star/ANN
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, November 7th, 2016