India starts transport of rice to Tripura via Bangladesh

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 24 2014, 08:08am hrs
After months of parleys, Food Corporation of India (FCI) has dispatched 5,000 tonne of rice to Tripura via Bangladesh territory. The move, if replicated, will cut down on cost of transportation and distribution of grain to other Northeastern states as well.

Sources told FE the rice consignment from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh reached Kolkata recently and is now being transported to Ashuganj river port (in Bangladesh) in smaller vessels. From Ashuganj, the grain will be transported by trucks to Agartala, which is only 37 km away.

The rice consignment will reach Tripura in a week, a food ministry official said. Another consignment of 5,000 tonne will be transported to Tripura shortly. This is a pilot initiative by FCI to check the feasibility of transporting 10,000 tonne of rice to the north eastern states via Bangladesh.

In the last few years FCI, in collaboration with the external affairs ministry, has been discussing the modalities of transporting grain with Bangladesh.

After successful transportation of 10,000 tonne of rice, the government is expected to ask Bangladesh to

allow 35,000 tonne of foodgrain to be transported to Tripura annually.

Sources said that for the first time, Bangladeshi trucks will carry foodgrain from Ashuganj directly into the FCI warehouse in Agartala so as to prevent a second transshipment at the Akhaura international border (Indo-Bangladesh border).

For the purpose of allowing Bangladesh trucks inside Indian territory, the ministry of external affairs has given the necessary clearances

and 'truck scanners' have been installed at the Akhaura checkpost.

Besides, the Indian government has already made arrangements for proper escort of Bangladesh trucks along with drivers up to the warehouse and during the return journey, besides providing transit visa to the drivers.

At present, FCI transports grain for the Targeted Public Distribution System using trucks that have to negotiate tough geographical terrain, vagaries of nature and frequent road blocks by insurgent groups. A truck travels more than 1,650 km to carry grain from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati a

distance that can be reduced to 350 km through the Bangladesh route.

Following bidding, the transportation job of foodgrain had been awarded to Delhi-based logistical company SARR freight. Transportation will also help boost economic activity at the Ashuganj port. apart from creating jobs, we will save on the cost of transportation, a food ministry official said.

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

The north-eastern states are not self-sufficient in grains such as rice and wheat, and depend on supplies from Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

During the monsoons, transport gets tougher due to floods and landslides. Connectivity through rivers Ganga and Padma (Bangladesh) is expected to help these regions get grain on time.

For transporting goods, essentials and heavy machinery from abroad and other parts of the country to the north east, India has been demanding land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh, with which it shares a 4,000-km border.