Customs officials blame the Covid-19 situation for the fall in imports, but statistics show imports through this land port continued to decline from earlier
- In FY2018-19, 1,836,953 metric tonnes goods were imported from India
- In FY2019-20, NBR set revenue target of Tk6,028.34 crore
- Revenue deficit in FY20 was Tk3,458.12 crore
- Imported goods include industrial raw materials, RMG products and oxygen
- Around 30 types of products are exported to India
Imports of goods through Benapole land port decreased by 58,325 metric tonnes in FY2019-20 when compared to the previous fiscal year, resulting in a huge deficit in government revenue collection.
Customs officials claim the Covid-19 situation has led to the decline in imports, but statistics show imports through this land port continued to decline from earlier.
According to traders, importers were moving away from Benapole port because of various types of harassment in getting customs services and infrastructural problems.
According to the Benapole Custom House, 17,78,628 metric tonnes of various types of goods were imported from India through Benapole port in the FY2019-20. The amount was 18,36,953 metric tonnes a year ago. In FY2017-18 the amount of goods imported from India through the port stood at 19,88,397.93 metric tonnes.
Customs sources said the National Board of Revenue (NBR) had initially set a revenue target of Tk6,028.34 crore on goods imported from India through Benapole port in FY2019-20. Later, the revenue target was revised down to Tk5,995.75 crore. However, the customs authorities could collect only Tk2,537.63 crore, resulting in a Tk3,458.12 crore revenue deficit.
In the FY2018-19, Benapole Custom House witnessed a revenue deficit of Tk1,145 crore. The target for that financial year was set at Tk5,185 crore, while the collection was Tk4,040 crore.
In FY2017-18, the revenue target was Tk4,195.88 crore, but the realised amount was Tk4,016.24 crore. In that year, the revenue deficit was Tk179.64 crore.
Mofizur Rahman Sajan, president of the Benapole C&F Association, said revenue may decline when low tariff goods are imported.
"For the complexity of customs, imports of taxable goods including car chassis and motor parts have declined. Furthermore, imports-export activities were suspended for three months due to the coronavirus outbreak this year," he said.
Aminul Haque, senior vice-president of Benapole Import-Export Association, said tariffs on imports have been raised at an unreasonable rate.
"Consequently, smuggling of goods by evading customs is increasing. Legal import of goods will increase when the tariff rates will be kept normal. It will increase revenue. However, this time the import has decreased due to coronavirus," he said.
He continued, "The port has a storage capacity of 50,000 tonnes, but at least 150,000 lakh tonnes of goods remain in the port all the time. Unable to unload goods due to space constraints, Indian trucks wait at the port day after day."
Besides, valuable products also get damaged as they are kept under the open sky for days. If traders get benefits, the government can meet its revenue collection target from this port, he added.
Former president of Jashore Chamber of Commerce Mizanur Rahman Khan said, "Though Benapole is a large port, we are not receiving any benefit from it. Trade service is open seven days a week on paper only."
There is no alternative to developing legal facilities and infrastructure to expand trade, he opined.
"In order to expand trade, Benapole land port needs to be made free from all forms of harassment. Imports have dropped due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the declining trend in all types of imports through the port started from the beginning of the last financial year," added MIzanur Rahman.
In this regard, Syed Niamul Islam, additional commissioner of Benapole Custom House said, "The collection of revenue has been declining due to the import of low-duty goods through Benapole for the last few years. The Covid-19 pandemic has only added to the crisis."
But he is hopeful that revenue will increase in the current financial year if the land port remains operational.
Meanwhile, the warehouse rent for goods imported from India through Benapole port has also collapsed.
In FY2019-20, the rent of the warehouse was fixed at Tk95.08 crore, against which only Tk84.19 crore was realised.
Port sources said goods imported from India are first stored in the warehouse of Benapole land port. At that time, the port authorities collect a fixed amount of revenue from traders for the maintenance and rent of those imported goods in the warehouse.
Sajedur Rahman, general secretary of the Benapole C&F Staff Association, said due to a lack of space in proportion to the demand, valuable goods imported from India are stored under the open sky.
"It deprives many traders and thus they are importing through other ports. Consequently, the port is failing to achieve desired revenue," he added.
Mohsin Milon, president of the Benapole Importers and Exporters Association, said the port's infrastructure needs to be improved in order to increase revenue from this port.
"Besides, many traders have lost their capital for mysterious fire incidents in the port. They have left the port as the port authorities did not pay any compensation to them," he added.
Azim Uddin Gazi, general secretary of the Benapole Transport Owners' Association, said a lack of lawful facilities while releasing goods was the other reason for the decline in imports.
This is causing the revenue to fall day by day, he added.
Meanwhile, Benapole port Director (Traffic) Abdul Jalil said, "Already a lot of infrastructural developments have taken place in the port. Other development projects which have been undertaken include installation of CCTV cameras, construction of high walls around the port and acquisition of new land."
After the completion of the development activities, the port will get the identity of a modern port. Then imports as well as revenue collection will increase in the port, he said.
Kolkata city in India is only 83 kilometers away from Benapole port. A goods-laden truck can reach Kolkata city from the port within three hours.
Traders in both the countries are, therefore, interested in importing and exporting through this port.
It is mentionable that 70 percent of the goods imported through land ports come through Benapole port for the easy communication system.
Goods worth around Tk60,000 crore are imported through Benapole every year, which provides around Tk5,000 crore in revenue to the government.
The imported goods include industrial raw materials, readymade garments, chemicals, oxygen and various food items.
Besides, various products worth around Tk8,000 crore are exported to India through this land port.
The exports include about 30 types of products including jute and jute products, readymade garments, chemicals, tissues, rice husks, fish, and oxygen, among others.