Travel sector revenues decreased by about Tk52 crore in 2020 via Benapole Land Port since the coronavirus pandemic had reduced passenger traffic between Bangladesh and India by three-quarters.
Due to the pandemic, the number of passengers decreased by more than 9.5 lakh in 2020 compared to 2019 figures. In 2020, around 3,04,500 domestic and foreign passport holders travelled to India on this route, compared to 12,55,900 in 2019.
Each passenger pays Tk500 to the government and Tk48 to the port authorities. As such, about Tk70 crore was collected as travel taxes in 2019, which decreased to Tk16.69 crore in 2020.
Akhtar Farooq, manager of Benapole Sonali Bank, confirmed the data on passenger count and revenue collection. Sonali Bank authorities are engaged in collecting travel tax from passengers travelling to India via Benapole Port.
Legal travel (through the port) between India and Bangladesh started in 1972. Passengers travelling to India for medical treatment, business, and leisure prefer this route as communication is easier. Benapole is only 84 kilometres from Kolkata city and one can reach Kolkata in just 2.5 hours.
From 13 March 2020, owing to the pandemic, the Indian government banned passengers from entering India through Benapole.
As of 15 August, diplomatic visa holders, officials of UN or international organisations, and those engaged in certain projects have been allowed to travel, subject to conditions. However, tourist visa holders are still barred from entry.
Dwipankar Kumar, an India-bound passenger, said, "I have a medical visa. The visa has a six-month validity, but it is single-entry only. It is expensive to stay in India for an extended period for the duration of my treatment. I need a multiple-entry visa like before, to be able to travel at least thrice."
Benapole Port Deputy Director Mamun Kabir Tarafdar said passenger traffic has dropped in the wake of the coronavirus.
He added that plans are being developed to acquire a new site and work is currently underway to expand the facilities at the passenger terminal.
Benapole Immigration Police Officer-in-Charge Ahsan Habib said 90% of India-bound passengers are currently on medical visas and 10% travel on business and official government work. Passengers on their way to and from India must produce a covid-19 negative certificate for a test done no earlier than 72 hours prior to travel.