The congestion at Benapole Land Port has reached alarming proportions, so much so that a truck from India can enter the port only after another has unloaded.
According to Benapole port sources, a new yard has been constructed at a cost of Tk87 crores. At present, the port has 32 sheds and 10 yards with a capacity of only 51,000 tonnes whereas at present the port has more than one lakh tonnes of goods.
Between 1,000 and 1,200 with goods from India are supposed to enter Bangladesh every day through the port. However, only about 500 vehicles entered in July. And now several thousand vehicles are waiting in Petrapole.
Port officials say after the closure due to Covid-19, about 1.5 lakh tonnes of goods were imported in July alone and 53,000 tonnes in the first 12 days of August. As a result, there is no space to keep goods in the port. However, they are hoping that the traders will unload all the products within the next 10 days.
Having no space to keep the products, those are kept scattered everywhere. The importers are suffering financial losses in various ways including theft of goods.
Moreover, there are only six cranes and five forklifts for loading and unloading goods at the port but the traders complained that most of the equipment was out of order.
Aminul Haque, senior vice-president of the Benapole Import-Export Association, said one crane was being used to load and unload goods at the Benapole port as the rest is not working properly.
Matiur Rahman, chairman of the Benapole branch of the Indo-Bangla Chamber of Commerce, said there has been space crisis at Benapole port for a long time.
"We have repeatedly demanded increasing the space but no one is paying heed. Thousands of cargo vehicles parked at Petrapole due to space crisis at the port are being harassed in various ways," he said.
Mizanur Rahman Khan, former president of the Jessore Chamber of Commerce, said the imported goods are not available at the right time as those vehicles have to wait for even 10 days at Petrapole to enter Benapole. Moreover, the importers have to pay extra Tk3,000 every day.
Benapole land port is the main means of land trade between Bangladesh and India. Goods worth about Tk20,000 crores are imported and exported through this port every year. Besides, 13 lakh of people travel through this port, adding Tk5,000 crores to the government treasury every year.
Despite making an important contribution to the country's economy, the infrastructural development of the port has progressed very little. There is a crisis in the machinery and equipment for loading and unloading goods. As a result, Benapole port is going to become unfit for business activities.
Terming the congestion alarming, Shahinur Hossain, president and importer of Jashore Motor Parts Business Association, said quite often the goods are damaged due to hasty unloading.
Mofizur Rahman Sajan, president of the Benapole C and F Association, said to make this port more dynamic, the space crisis must be overcome first.
He said the capacity of Benapole land port needs to be increased to make it suitable for trade. Besides, necessary infrastructure has to be built. The equipment of the port should be increased. If the government does not take immediate action in this regard, it will soon become unusable.
In this regard, deputy director of Benapole Land Port Authority Mamun Kabir Tarafdar said, "Traders have informed us about the port crisis and shortage of equipment. We have urged the authorities to take the necessary steps to resolve these issues.
"We have already constructed two large yards spending Tk87 crores, which has increased the production capacity. We have acquired 25 acres of land. There are proposals to acquire another 16.5 acres. Work on setting up a cargo vehicle terminal at Benapole at a cost of Tk289 crores will begin soon. CCTV will be installed at a cost of Tk45 crores. If these are implemented, there will be no more problems in this port," he added.
According to port sources, 13 lakh 79 thousand 350 tonnes in the 2014-15 financial year, 12 lakh 88 thousand 938 tonnes in 2015-16, 13 lakh 93 thousand 319 tonnes in 2016-17, 19 lakh 88 thousand 358 tonnes in the 2017-18 financial year, 21 lakh 81 thousand 123 tonnes in 2018-19, and in 2019-20, 17 lakh 628 thousand 628 tonnes of different types of goods were imported through Benapole port.