Despite being the busiest and largest land port of Bangladesh, Benapole carries on with import-export with a severe manpower crisis at its customs house as there has been no recruitment in the last 20 years.
Customs sources said the port's organogram has 336 posts, but 171 of them are vacant at present.
The workforce crisis at customs has led to frequent operational congestion at the land port. The port floated a recruitment circular in 2018, but hiring of new staff is yet to be completed even after two years.
Businessmen have said the workforce shortage slows down port operations, affecting traders in the end. They said if the customs had sufficient manpower, import-export as well as the government's revenue earnings would have doubled.
Benapole launched its own customs house in 2000. Prior to that, the port was under Mongla customs.
Mofizur Rahman Sajan, president of the Benapole C&F Association, said the customs house should have sufficient manpower as the country imports most of the products through Benapole.
"The government has to pay attention. If the port's customs and infrastructure are developed, the annual revenue collection could reach Tk10,000 crore," he commented.
Of the total 171 vacant posts at the customs house, there are eight vacancies against 43 Class I posts, 42 vacancies against 124 Class II posts, 113 vacancies against 151 Class III posts and eight vacancies against 18 Class IV posts.
Through Benapole, the country imports goods worth around Tk40,000 crore and exports items worth around Tk8,000 crore per year. The government earns Tk5,000 revenue on imports.
Products imported through Benapole include industrial raw materials, readymade garments, chemicals, machinery parts, yarn and various food items. The exported items include jute and jute products, fish, melamine, readymade garments and tissue paper.
Matiar Rahman, chairman of the India-Bangladesh Land Port Import-Export Committee, said the port should not have any manpower crisis as Bangladesh did 70% of its imports and exports through Benapole.
"Workforce shortage in any wing of the port puts extra pressure on others. If the capacity of the port were increased, revenue from Benapole would have doubled," he commented.
Mizanur Rahman Khan, former president of the Jashore Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said manpower shortage at customs slowed down port operations, resulting in sufferings for businessmen.
"Moreover, port officials have to take extra workload. The government should immediately recruit customs staffers," he added.
When contacted, Benapole Customs Commissioner Md Azizur Rahman said the pandemic had delayed recruitment.
"Once the situation returns to normal, we will complete the process. However, we currently do not have a severe manpower shortage as there is no crisis of revenue officials, who do most of the work."
No staff shortage at other land ports
There is no manpower shortage in Brahmanbaria's Akhaura land port as there is no import through it.
Established in 1986, Dinajpur's Hili land port does both import and export. "Our workforce is sufficient," said Sohrab Hossen Mallick Pratap, public relations officer at Panama Hili Port Link Limited.
Dinajpur has another land port at Birol upazila. This land port is yet to be operational as the construction of the port's infrastructure is going on. The Bangladesh Land Port Authority has tasked the private operator Birol Land Port Limited to run the port.
There is no manpower crisis at Tamabil land port in Sylhet either. There are ten posts at Tabamil port while eight staffers are now working there.
Ruhul Amin, assistant director of Tamabil land port, said the port's operations were less diversified than those of others as the country mainly imported stones through the port.
"Exports through Tamabil are also limited. As a result, more workforce is not required here. If the two vacancies were filled, our work would accelerate."
He said if imports and exports through the port were diversified, then more staffers would be required.