Transit facilities: More talk, less use

Everything including talks, route and fee fixing, and formulation of operation guidelines have been done for granting transit to India. A consignment of goods was even transported on a test run, but transit was not implemented eventually. Consignment of transit or transshipment did not become regular either.

The latest addition to transit is the transshipment through Chattogram and Mongla ports to the northeastern states of India. The National Board of Revenue (NBR) fixed eight protocol routes and fees last April. A permanent order was also issued, but goods were transported on these routes in the past three months.

Recently, a report in the Indian news agency PTI said the industries and commerce minister of the Indian state of Tripura Santana Chakma told a press conference, “India and Bangladesh have signed an agreement, allowing Indian traders to use Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for transportation of goods. The Bangladesh government has notified the four routes for transhipment of goods by Tripura and other northeastern states.”

Following the media report, talks over transit started again, but the reality is that Indian traders are not showing interest in using transit.

Regarding when traders show no interest in transit, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)'s distinguished fellow professor Mustafizur Rahman told Prothom Alo that only allowing transit will not work; infrastructure facilities and customs process must be made easier to transport the consignment of goods smoothly, but that did not happen.

Indian traders will consider costs and time including infrastructure facilities and customs process while transporting goods through Bangladesh. Besides, Indian traders enjoy special incentives on transporting goods through chicken keck, so, if the cost is lower on that route they will not show interest to carry goods through Bangladesh, he added.

In the meantime, NBR and land port authorities said all facilities have been ensured for the transshipment of the consignment of goods. Now, it is necessary to hold talks at a high level with the governments to increase the use of transit by Indian traders.

Transit through Chattogram and Mongla ports

Initiatives to transport goods to the northeastern states of India through Chattogram and Mongla ports are not seeing daylight. Consignments of goods were transported via Chattogram port for the first time in July 2020, followed by carrying several more consignments. Both transit routes were regularised last April, but no consignment of goods arrived over the last three months.

According to NBR sources, Indian traders can tranship consignment of goods at Chittagong and Mongla ports and transport those to India through four land ports in Akhaura, Bibirbazar, Tamabil and Sheola.

At the seaport, a document processing fee of Tk 30 will be charged per consignment for transit or transhipment, a transhipment fee of Tk 20 a tonne, a security charge of Tk 85 per container, an administrative charge of Tk 100 a tonne and a container scanning charge of Tk 258 will be realised. Besides, tolls on the road and electric and seal fee will also be imposed. However, all fees are 15 per cent VAT (value added tax) exclusive.

No interest in marine protocol

Multidimensional transits remain open in waterways and roadways under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between Bangladesh and India. The multidimensional transit route consists of Kolkata to Ashuganj by waterway and Akhaura to Agartala by road.

Talks on transit began with India after heavy machinery from Tripura’s Palatana power plant was transported through these routes. After several years of a bargain, India was given the transit facility with fees in 2016, but only 20-25 consignments were transported through these routes in the last seven years. Fees were not collected that much. Indian traders are not showing interest in this route either.

Sources said a rail service opened connecting Kolkata to Agartala, the capital of Tripura, several years ago. Previously, rail communication reached Tripura’s Dharmanagar. Now, the construction of a railway line is underway to Sabroom via Agartala. As a result, heavy products are now arriving in Agartala from Kolkata by rail.

Test run of a consignment by road

The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative was taken several years ago to boost regional connectivity. The BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic amongst BBIN countries was signed in Thimpu, Bhutan in June 2015. All countries have approved the agreement except Bhutan.

Under the motor vehicle agreement, a consignment of machinery of India’s Vodaphone was transported on a trial basis from Kolkata to Agartala via Bangladesh in 2015. Since there was no opportunity to charge fees, an Indian rupee was collected as a token fee. No consignment had been transshipped since then.

Several new inland waterways are identified in the past couple of years to boost trade between Bangladesh and India.

One such route consists of waterways in the Gomti river from Comilla' Daudkandi to Sonaimura of Tripura's Sipaizala district and then a roadway to Agartala. A consignment of cement was transported on a test run via this transit in August 2020, but traders showed no further interest to transport goods on this route due to a lack of navigation.