As Bangladesh bargains, plans to transport grain to NE hit roadblock

Written by Sandip Das | Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 21 2013, 07:32am hrs
India's proposal to transport foodgrain to Tripura and other north-eastern states from Kolkata using Ashuganj Bangladeshs river port seems to have been delayed because of the latters demand to allow its trucks to enter the Indian territory for unloading foodgrain.

Bangladeshs ministry of foreign affairs, in a letter to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka (FE has copy of the letter), has stated,Due to the constraint of space and absence of loading or unloading facilities in the border, and also considering the limitations of time and logistical support during trans-shipment, foodgrain-laden Bangladeshi trucks be allowed to reach directly to the unloading point in Agartala.

A senior government official said that allowing trucks from other countries into the Indian territory is simply not feasible considering diplomatic and security factors.

However, diplomatic sources told FE that the delay is due to the Indian governments inability to sign the Teesta river water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh. It has led to delays in implementation of the bilateral agreements signed two years back, during Sheikh Hasinas visit to New Delhi.

Last year, Dhaka had agreed to Indias proposal to take 10,000 tonne of foodgrain from Kolkata to Tripura via Bangladeshs Ashuganj river port along the Padma river. From Ashuganj, which is only 35 km from the Tripura border, the foodgrain was to be transported to trucks by Bangladesh after it was to be transported by Indian carriers to FCI depots in Agartala.

During Hasina's visit to New Delhi two years back, India and Bangladesh 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.

In March, an Indian team visited the Ashuganj port to set modalities for trans-shipment of foodgrain. FCI has awarded the contract for transporting foodgrain through Bangladesh to ICM.

Bangladesh has also asked for only low capacity vessels with maximum capacities of 1,000 tonne to be used for river transportation from Kolkata to Ashuganj and not more than two such ships to be unloaded at Ashuganj port at a time. The Indian side has agreed to the condition and promised help to develop the port.

Currently, it is a tough task for the FCI to carry PDS grain to most of the northeast due to tough geographical terrain, vagaries of nature and insurgent groups blockades. A truck must negotiate over 1,650 km to carry grain from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati a distance that can be slashed to 350 km if the Bangladesh route is used.

Recently, Dhaka had allowed state-owned ONGC land access to transport machinery for the Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura using the Ashuganj port.