Freight movement: Better connectivity with NE in pipeline

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November 22, 2021 3:15 AM

The India govt-sponsored Sittwe port project in Myanmar, nearing its end, is a vital part of the agenda to up trade with the 7 states and neighbouring nations

The $120-mn Sittwe port is a part of the India-sponsored $448-mn Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP), which aims to connect Kolkata to the NE via the Bay of Bengal.The $120-mn Sittwe port is a part of the India-sponsored $448-mn Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP), which aims to connect Kolkata to the NE via the Bay of Bengal.

A host of ongoing projects that seek to improve connectivity between the North East (NE) and the rest of India, with Kolkata serving as the hub of operations, are expected to boost trade with the land-locked seven sisters of the region, besides facilitating commerce with neighbouring countries. The operationalisation of the Sittwe port in Rakhaine province of Myanmar, on which work is nearing its end, will serve as a vital step in that direction. The $120-mn Sittwe port is a part of the India-sponsored $448-mn Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTTP), which aims to connect Kolkata to the NE via the Bay of Bengal.

As part of this freight circuit, goods will be carried from Kolkata’s Khidderpore dock to Switte port in Myanmar and thence to Mizoram in India’s North East. The journey from the port to Lawngtia in Mizoram will have two components: a 158-km stretch on Myanmar’s Kaladan river to the Paletwa multi modal terminal and a 110-km trip by road from the terminal to the Mizoram border. This route will continue up to Dabaka in Assam via the 850-km-long NH54. Besides ensuring alternative access to the NE and reducing logistics costs, this route would grant the country a new passage to Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Laos.

A trading line from the Kolkata port to the NE has also been opened through the Chittagong port in Bangladesh since July 2020. But congestion at the Chittagong port has posed logistic challenges. While a new Rs 955-crore terminal is being built at Ashugunj in Bangladesh with 33% Indian line of credit, delay in the project’s execution by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has hindered better connectivity to the NE through the inland waterway route. The development of a fairway upstream of Narayanganj in Dhaka, expected to be complete in the ongoing fiscal, and the development of the Sirajganj-Chilmari (in Bangladesh)- Dhubri (in Guwahati) stretch, with dredging work underway between Sirajganj and Chilmari, is expected to ease matters in this context.

Meanwhile, the increase in the number of Indo-Bangladesh protocol routes from 8 to 10 in May last year has added two ports of call – Jogigopha in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh – to the existing 12 ports of call. The newly added protocol routes have provided new connectivity to Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Bhutan.

These projects connecting the rest of India to the NE through Myanmar and Bangladesh envisage Kolkata’s Khidderpore as the hub of cargo movement. The Kolkata Port Trust, renamed Syama Prasad Mookherjee Port (SMP), is the only Indian port to enjoy multi-modal connectivity (rail, road and inland waterways). Vinit Kumar, chairman, SMP, points out that the port’s two handling arms – Kolkata and Haldia – are located at the junction of a sea and river, allowing it to tap national waterways (NW) 1&2– NW-1 connects Haldia to Varanasi and NW-2 connects Kolkata and Haldia to the NE via the Indo-Bangladesh protocol routes and the Kaladan river in Myanmar.

The use of inland waterways has helped raise rice and wheat exports to Bangladesh to a daily average of 5,000 tons. “The 2.5 lakh tons of rice exports to Bangladesh that took place through the road route last year have been achieved in 3-4 months this year by using inland waterways, he says.

It is imperative that the Switte port becomes operational at the earliest and the Indo-Bangladesh protocol routes become more vibrant through the operationalisation of the Ashuganj terminal and the Narayanganj fairway, boosting connectivity to the NE, Sarbananda Sonowal, Union minister for ports, shipping and waterways, has said.

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