Northeast set to get grain using Bangladesh land & river routes

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: May 25 2014, 03:21am hrs
After months of negotiations, India is set to transport rice under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) to Tripura and other north-eastern states using the Bangladesh route, saving cost and time.

Sources told FE the Food Corporation of India (FCI) will send 10,000 tonne of rice as a pilot from Andhra Pradesh to Tripura (via Kolkata)

using Bangladesh's land and river routes.

Following bidding, the transportation job has been awarded to Delhi-based logistical company SARR freight, which will use the Ashuganj port (in Bangladesh) along the Meghna river. Initially, the grain will be transported from ports in Andhra Pradesh to Kolkata using big ships (5,000-tonne capacity) and then to the Ashuganj port on smaller vessels. From Ashuganj, the grain will be transported by trucks to Agartala, which is only 37 km away.

The logistical company is expected to get a formal order from the Bangladesh government shortly, clearing the way for transportation of rice to the north-eastern states, sources said.

At present, FCI transports grain for TPDS 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 after the Bangladesh route opens.

The Tripura government wrote to the external affairs ministry last month asking for access to Ashuganj for transportation of essential commodities to the state. The state government initiated the move after the railways announced suspension of services to Agartala because of gauge-conversion work on the Agartala-Guwahati route.

Sources said the Indian government has also given clearances for allowing Bangladeshi trucks carrying grain. Starting from Ashuganj, these trucks will enter the Indian territory at the Akhoura border and unload at the FCI godowns in Agartala.

As reported by FE, Bangladeshi authorities had requested New Delhi to allow their trucks because of 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.

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 Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) land access to transport machinery for the Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.

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

During 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 northeast, India has been demanding land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh, with which it shares a 4,000-km border.

During 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.