India has asked Bangladesh for some export facilities including the regularising of container freight train services between the two neighbouring countries. India also proposed opening the Akhaura-Agartala land port further so that they can increase exports to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has received a letter on this issue ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India tour slated for October.
Dr Mashiur Rahman, advisor on economic affairs to the PM, will lead a discussion on the proposed issues on September 11 at the Prime Minister Office.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the Bangladeshi premier for an official visit in October. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during a visit to Dhaka in August, gave the invitation to Sheikh Hasina.
PMO sources say that India wants to finalise the container train service during the PM’s visit to India. Moreover, India has proposed introducing a freight train service via the Petrapole-Benapole land port.
Businessmen from both India and Bangladesh will be able to transport their goods easily once this service is introduced.
The Container Corporation of India and the Bangladesh Container Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2017 while Sheikh Hasina was on a visit India. On April 3, 2018, a container train from Kolkata reached the West Railway Station of Bangabandhu Bridge on a trial run, but the service hit a snag over administrative, infrastructure and customs issues.
At present, the two countries have a container train service from Gede in India to Dharshana in Bangladesh.
“Both Bangladesh and India will benefit from the freight train service,” said Dr Mohammad Yunus, senior research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.
“It will put extra pressure on Bangladesh’s rail, road and infrastructure, but if the country benefits even after that, why would not we accept it?” he added.
Dr Yunus observed that some may say that this service will only benefit India. “You have to understand that it is a business and we can profit from it as well.”
“If India agrees to pay enough for the service, we should say yes,” he noted cautiously.
Meantime, some officials of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) said that they have requested Bangladesh Railway to build the infrastructure for a bonded area beside the West Railway Station of Bangabandhu Bridge in Sirajganj.
In response to the request, Bangladesh Railway has formed a committee for a feasibility study on building a bonded area and customs office there.
“Once we get an assurance on funding, we will draft the project proposal after the feasibility study,” said Bangladesh Railway’s Chief Planning Officer Anowarul Hoque. He added that in his opinion both Bangladesh and India will benefit from the container train service.
India has requested Bangladesh to boost the work on infrastructure development and has even offered to fund it.
India wants more from the Akhaura-Agartala land port
India seeks full use of the land port. According to the Indian proposal, it can then also export a variety of products to Bangladesh via the Akhaura land port. India wants to export a total of 19 items, including tea, through this land port.
Delhi also wants a transshipment facility to transport tea and other items from Tripura via Chattogram port to other parts of India.
“Regional connectivity will benefit both countries,” said Ali Ahmad, a former NBR member and chief executive of the Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute, while advocating for approaches with mutual benefits.
“If we allow India to use our road, rail and seaport for business, both countries will enjoy financial benefits. Bangladesh can earn from India as the country is eager to transport from Tripura to Kolkata using Bangladeshi roads,” Ahmad further said.
Apart from this, India also wants to export automobile chassis to Bangladesh through the Ghojadanga-Bhomra land port. Moreover, India is keen to set up six more border bazaars to enable traders from both countries to buy and sell products to local residents.