Import and export at the two main land ports of the country – Jashore's Benapole and Satkhira's Bhomra – have declined significantly, thanks to the pandemic caused by Covid-19.
In the last fiscal year (2019-20), exports to India through the Benapole port dropped by at least 1 lakh tonnes while the Bhomra port failed to achieve its revenue collection target by around Tk603 crore for lower import activities.
People concerned said that Indian traders were more interested to export goods than to import from Bangladesh. Besides, the amount of goods exported through Benapole was less than that in other years owing to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the reluctance of traders to import goods amid the pandemic was the chief reason for the revenue deficit at the Bhomra port.
Traders of the Benapole port alleged that their cargo-laden trucks were searched unnecessarily on the Indian side in the name of security checks. And they also had to pay additional charges to the Indian authorities for different purposes.
Export will expand further if people engaged in supervising trade at the border are cordial, they said.
Goods exported to India through Benapole include jute and jute products, readymade garments, fish, chemicals, soap, and tissue paper, among others.
Matiar Rahman, chairman of the India-Bangladesh Land Port Import-Export Sub-Committee, said 70 percent of land trades in the country take place through Benapole port.
"Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, exports were suspended for the last five months [of fiscal year 2019-20]. Besides, commercial activities are being hampered by harassment in different parts of India," he said.
Mofizur Rahman Sajan, president of the Benapole C&F Agents Association, said trading activities will gain pace if infrastructure is developed in India and harassment is stopped.
Aminul Haque, vice-president of the Benapole Import-Export Association, said increasing exports will lift foreign exchange earnings and will create more jobs in the country.
Niyamul Islam, additional commissioner at Benapole Customs House, said that although exports declined due to coronavirus, trading has resumed again.
The Indian authorities have promised measures to stop harassment in the Indian part, he said.
Revenue fall at Bhomra
Due to lower import-export activities at the Bhomra port, traders have faced financial losses and the government has lost a huge amount of revenue.
In the last fiscal year, the port earned around Tk583 crore in revenue against the target of nearly Tk1,186 crore.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the government ordered the suspension of import-export activities at the port from March 25. And after a three-month suspension, it was reopened for imports and exports on June 19.
Afterwards, from June 20 to July 20, total revenue collection was Tk37.36 crore, almost 89 percent of which was earned in the current (2020-21) fiscal year.
Sheikh Enam Hossain, revenue officer of Bhomra Land Port Customs department, said the port's revenue collection target was not met for various reasons including the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many traders have not been using the port for export and import, he said. And the port was closed for three months over the coronavirus outbreak, he said.
Maksudur Rahman, treasurer of Bhomra C&F Association and proprietor of M&S Traders, alleged traders do not get any concession at Bhomra port for importing goods. So, they are reluctant to use this port.
Besides, before the pandemic, at least 350 cargo trucks used to enter Bangladesh every day through Bhomra and some 100 trucks from Bangladesh would go to India. At present, 275-300 cargo trucks enter from India daily and 40-50 trucks go to India, he added.
The imported goods from Bhomra port include grapes, apples, pomegranates, tomatoes, oranges, watermelons, mangoes, rice, betel leaves, fish (dried fish and fresh fish), dried peppers, turmeric, ceramic items, stones, capsicum, and ginger, among others.
Mostafizur Rahman Nasim, general secretary of the C&F Association of Bhomra Land Port, said, originally, there was an opportunity to import 75 types of products through the port, but, in reality, 25-30 types are imported.
Besides, raw materials and fruits were, earlier, imported through Bhomra. Now, they are imported through Benapole. So, the revenue of Bhomra port has decreased as many traders are now importing goods through Benapole, he said.
Monirul Islam, deputy director of Bhomra port, said all the activities in the port are going on normally.
"However, I do not know that traders are moving to other ports as they get discounts there," he added.