The number of passengers travelling to India through the land port of Benapole in the fiscal year 2020-21 has decreased by more than eight lakh people compared to the previous year.
During this time, the revenue deficit in the travel sector was more than Tk41 crore, said Abdul Jalil, acting director of Benapole Land Port.
Due to the relatively easy communication system, about 18 to 20 lakh passengers travel between India and Bangladesh every year for various purposes including medical, business, education, and travel. The government earns nearly Tk100 crore in revenue from travels.
Benapole Immigration Officer in Charge (OC) Ahsan Habib said that before Covid-19, about 8,000 – 10,000 passengers used to travel on this route every day. At present, the daily passenger traffic has come down to 80 – 100 people.
Those who have clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Bangladesh Mission are getting the opportunity to travel under certain conditions, he added.
Due to the pandemic, India imposed a travel ban on 13 March 2020 to control the Covid-19 infections. Later, on 15 August 2020, the ban was relaxed and India introduced medical and business visas on a limited scale.
On 23 April this year, India imposed a travel ban again after the Covid-19 situation deteriorated and later introduced only a limited number of conditional medical visas for critical patients.
All these restrictions from time to time have decreased the number of passengers. The immigration activities are also running on a limited scale to prevent Covid-19 transmissions. At present, Bangladeshis can leave for India any day of the week. But they can only return from India on Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The immigration activities are open from 8am to 3pm.
Azim Uddin, medical officer of the Benapole Checkpost Immigration Health Department, said passengers are currently required to have a Covid-19 negative certificate within 72 hours of travelling between India and Bangladesh. Those returning from India are being kept in institutional quarantine for 14 days at local residential hotels at personal expense.
Rezwan Ahmad Murad, an importer, said due to the government-imposed restrictions because of Covid-19, the trade between India and Bangladesh has declined tremendously.
"In the previous financial year, the revenue collection from Benapole port was Tk2000 crore short of the target and the year before that, the deficit was around Tk3000 crore," added Murad.