Ashiqul Alam graduated from a private university and has been in the export business for a couple of years. This young man from Munsefpara, Brahmanbaria Sadar likes to travel as well. He was scheduled to visit Kashmir, India in February or early March this year.
But he could not travel to Kashmir as the Agartala Integrated Checkpost in India stopped the movement of Bangladeshi passengers through the Akhaura International Immigration Checkpost in Brahmanbaria on 12 March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The situation has forced many travellers like Ashiqul to postpone their plans of travelling to India via the Akhaura Checkpost. As the checkpost has stopped its activities for several months now, the government has been deprived of a large amount of revenue.
Mohammad Ali, a revenue officer at Akhaura Land Customs Station, said, "So far, the government has lost an estimated income of Tk5 crore. We do not have any information as to wahen full-time passenger crossings will return to normal."
According to the people concerned, the government has no revenue income as goods imported from India have been stopped through Akhaura Land Port. Some foreign exchange is earned from exporting goods.
They said, before the pandemic, around Tk75 lakh would be deposited in the government treasury every month from travel tax obtained at the Akhaura International Immigration Checkpost. At that time an average of 500 passengers travelled to India every day through this checkpost.
During various festivals, the number of Bangladeshis going to India per day would exceed one thousand. Every passenger would need to pay a Tk500 as travel tax for travelling to India.
After the ban on Bangladeshi passengers entering India from 12 March, only officials of United Nations and international organisations, diplomats and visa holders of various projects have been allowed to travel through the checkpost. The Indian authorities said while imposing the ban that it would be lifted after 15 April. But the travel of Bangladeshi passengers has not started till now, even though the year is coming to an end.
Sumon Roy, a young man from Brahmanbaria, said he has a one-year multiple entry visa to travel to India. With this visa, he often used to go to Agartala using the Akhaura checkpost. But after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, he could not go to India as the checkpost was closed. Now his visa has also expired.
Another young man named Md Sohel Mia from Sarkarpara area of Brahmanbaria said, "It takes less time to reach Agartala through Akhaura checkpost than to reach Dhaka from Brahmanbaria. That is why I often went to Agartala for necessary shopping or sightseeing. Since the outbreak of [the novel] coronavirus, I have not gone to Agartala."
According to Akhaura International Immigration Checkpost Police, only those stranded at the two countries' checkposts are now allowed to return to their respective countries. Recent medical visa holders are also being allowed to enter India but that number is very low. Agartala immigration authorities are allowing two to three medical visa holders to enter India every day.
From 7 March to 24 November, 1,278 Bangladeshi nationals returned to their homeland through the Akhaura checkpost. They were trapped in different parts of India due to the pandemic. During this period only 109 Bangladeshis went to India.
At the same time, 824 Indian nationals entered Bangladesh and 1,366 went to India from Bangladesh. The government received a travel tax of Tk500 from every passenger travelling to India through the checkpost.
Abdul Hamid, in-charge of Akhaura International Immigration Checkpost Police, said, "Most of the passengers crossing the check post are tourist visa holders. But access to tourist visas has been suspended due to the pandemic. Those who have recently obtained a medical visa are being allowed to enter India. But those who got visas before the outbreak of Covid-19 are not being allowed to enter."
"Agartala Integrated Check Post authorities have not yet officially informed us about when the passenger service will be normal. With novel coronavirus infections on the rise again, passenger crossings are unlikely to return to normal this year," he added.