India and Bangladesh are set to operationalise a new riverine trade route on September 3, when a Bangladeshi vessel will transport a cargo of cement to Tripura as part of efforts to boost connectivity between the two countries.
The route connecting Sonamura in Tripura to Daudkandi in Bangladesh is being operationalised under an agreement signed by the two sides in May to boost riverine trade by adding two new routes and five more ports in order to improve connectivity to India's north-eastern states and reduce transportation costs.
Following discussions between the Inland Water Authority of India and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, the first pilot movement on the 93-km Daudkandi-Sonamura route is expected to be conducted on September 3, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The Bangladeshi vessel MV Premier will carry 50 metric tonnes of cement from Premier Cement Ltd of Bangladesh to Tripura via Gumti River, the people said. Customs formalities will be completed at the land customs station at Srimantapur-Bibirbazar, they added.
"The new route will facilitate bilateral trade with improved reliability and cost effectiveness for the business community," said one of the people cited above.
India and Bangladesh signed the Protocol for Inland Water Trade and Transit in 1972 for inland waterways connectivity between the two sides for bilateral trade and to improve connectivity to India's north-eastern states. The protocol was expanded with the signing of a second addendum on May 20 that added two new routes and five ports of call to takes the total number of routes to 10 and ports of call to 11.
During fiscal 2019-20, about 3.5 million metric tonnes of cargo were transported via the inland waterways.
"The connectivity provided by the existing and the newly added routes is all the more pertinent amid the Covid-19 crisis as it will be key to economical, faster, safer and greener transportation for the business communities of both countries," the person said.
The other new route – Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi – will help augment infrastructure in Bangladesh and reduce the cost of transporting goods such as stone chips to northern Bangladesh. It is also expected to decongest land customs stations on both sides.
The new riverine trade route is being operationalised against the backdrop of India's concerted efforts to boost economic aid and connectivity with key neighbours amid the border standoff with China.
Last month, India handed over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh, reflecting a renewed focus on its "neighbourhood first" policy. This came close on the heels of the first cross-border container train reaching Bangladesh with 50 containers of FMCG goods and fabrics and the first trans-shipment of container cargo from Kolkata to Agartala in the landlocked north-eastern region via Bangladesh's Chattogram port.