Ministry for use of Chittagong port to transport grain to N-E

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 31 2014, 07:48am hrs
In view of inadequate infrastructure at the Ashuganj river port on the Bangladesh side, which caused delay in foodgrain transport taken up on pilot basis from Andhra Pradesh to Tripura, the food ministry has urged the external affairs ministry to take up the issue of using Chittagong port for the transportation of grains with Dhaka.

Sources told FE that Cabinet secretariat has also discussed the issue with shipping ministry and the government would take up the proposal with Bangladesh shortly.

Officials also said Chittagong is located around 250 km away from Belonia in Tripura and connected by road.

We want quicker transportation of foodgrain from Punjab, Haryana or Andhra Pradesh to north-eastern states and using Chittagong sea port would help in reducing cost and time of transportation, a food ministry official said.

As part of a pilot project, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) through SARR freight, a logistics company, transported 10,000 tonne of rice from Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh to Agartala, Tripura using Ashuganj river port along Meghna river which is located about 40-odd km away from Agartala border.

However, it took four months to transport the grain because of water level at Ashuganj port was too low to allow big ships instead functioning Chittagong port can handle bigger containers.

On a land route, the distance between Kolkata and Agartala would be around 1,600 km, which is reduced to few hundred km if one takes Bangladesh route.

There is only a narrow land corridor to the north-eastern states from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through hilly terrain.

Currently, FCI transports foodgrain consisting of rice and wheat for distribution through Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) using trucks to many north-eastern states such as Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, which are not self-sufficient in grain, and depend on supplies from Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The trucks usually negotiate tough geographical terrain, vagaries of nature and frequent road blocks by insurgent groups.

Since the beginning of this month, the railways is carrying out gauge conversion work between Assam and north-eastern states such as Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram to improve transportation network.

For assessing the feasibility, for the first time Bangladeshi trucks carrying foodgrains from Ashuganj port directly allowed into the FCI warehouse in Agartala so as to prevent a second transhipment at the Akhaura international border (Indo-Bangldesh border).

For the purpose of allowing Bangladesh trucks inside Indian territory, the ministry of external affairs had given necessary clearances and 'fully truck scanners' were installed at Akhaura check post.

During Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi a few years ago, India and Bangladesh had 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.