Bangladesh has allowed Food Corporation of India (FCI) to transport 25,000 tonne of foodgrain from Kolkata to Tripura using its land and river route.
Sources told FE that this follows a pilot initiative where FCI had transported 10,000 tonne of rice last year from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh to Agartala in Tripura using Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh.
At present, FCI transports grain for Targeted Public Distribution System using trucks to grain deficit N-E states such as Tripura. However, the vehicles carrying foodgrain negotiate tough geographical terrain, the vagaries of nature and frequent road blocks by insurgent groups. “We have awarded the contract for transport of 10,000 tonne to a private logistical company, from Kolkata to Tripura using the Ashuganj port in Bangladesh in the next few months,” an official said. Sources said Gurgaon-based Darcel Logistics has got the contract.
The rice will be transported from the Kolkata port using small vessels having a capacity of 1,000 tonne each as the Ashuganj port is not equipped to handle bigger vessels.
An official said that after the completion of the transport, shipment of the remaining 15,000 tonne approved by the Bangladesh government would be taken up.
Using Bangladesh’s territory for foodgrain transport is economical as a vehicle travels more than 1,650 km to carry grain from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati — while the distance is reduced to 350 km via Bangladesh. Besides, the railways is undertaking gauge conversion work between Assam and N-E states such as Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram to improve the transportation network.
To assess feasibility, Bangladeshi trucks carrying foodgrain from the Ashuganj port were for the first time allowed into the FCI warehouse in Agartala so as to prevent a second transhipment at the Akhaura international border (Indo-Bangladesh border).
For the purpose of allowing Bangladesh trucks inside Indian territory, the ministry of external affairs had given necessary clearances and ‘truck scanners’ were installed at the Akhaura checkpost.
India also made arrangements for proper escort of Bangladeshi trucks up to warehouse and for the return journey, besides providing a transit visa to truck drivers.
A few years ago, Dhaka had allowed state-owned ONGC land access to transport heavy machinery for the Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura. The N-E states are not self-sufficient in grain such as rice and wheat, and depend on supplies from Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
During PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi a few years ago, the two nations agreed to amend the bilateral protocol on inland water transit and trade to declare Ashuganj in Bangladesh and Silghat in India as ports of call.