Restoration of snapped railway ties between Tripura and Bangladesh has the potential to boost economic progress for the Northeast Indian state.
Prior to partition, Tripura was connected with Bangladesh through theBelonia-Feni, Khowai-Akhaura via Balla and the Amarpur-Bhairab Bazaar railway lines. When these lines were snapped, so was the connection between the two states.
Historically speaking, in the epoch of princely Tripura, large parts of Cumilla, Brahmanbaria, Sylhet, Chattagram and Noakhali formed a part of the king's estate called "Chakla Roshanabad." By and large, Tripura and Bangladesh formed inextricable links which were detached by the pen of Cyril Radcliffe in 1947.
A reversal of this gap was the need of the hour. And this need was initially realised by the Tripura Chamber of Industry and Commerce way back in the early '90s.
Moti Lal Debnath, president of Tripura Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said, "We realised that it would be futile relying upon road connectivity for Tripura's development. That is why we should stress upon development of the Indo-Bangla railway connectivity. For that matter, we knocked then industry minister Manik Dey. Unfortunately, his response was lukewarm as it was a matter of bilateral international concern.
"A delegation led by us in 1994 approached the then Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who needed to be convinced strongly. We made attempts in that direction and success was rendered to us. However, internal political problems supervened and the idea was pushed back to square one," Debnath added.
He further said that they finally found a ray of hope with the advent of the Sheikh Hasina-led government, who entertained the matter with enthusiasm. "It has yielded good results as well in the long run."
Striking a similar note, President of Tripura Industrial Entrepreneurs Subrata Roy said, "It is perhaps the joint initiative of the Modi government's 'Act East Policy' and Hasina government's eagerness that such a noble step has been taken to cement Indo-Bangla railway connectivity."
Indo-Bangla railway connectivity would also play a crucial role in lowering the prices of commodities in Tripura, which are higher than other Indian states.
Explaining the reason behind this factor, Tripura Wholesale Grocery Merchant Association President Suresh Debnath said, "It depends on how goods would reach Tripura. The expenditure on trucks that carry the goods is also a matter of concern.
"There is a goods train service between Guwahati and Agartala. However, as the railways do not book a half-rack, the goods are unloaded in Guwahati, which then reach Agartalaon trucks. As a result, carrying costs remain as it is," Suresh Debnath explained.
Through the goods railway service between Guwahati and Agartala, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) brings PDS rice to Tripura. Cement is brought using the same service. But due to low consumption in Tripura – which bears an overall population of 37 lakhs, there is no fall in the price of goods.
He added, "If either a goods train service from Ashuganj to Agartala is launched or Indian trucks directly carry unloaded goods from Ashunganj to Tripura, prices of goods are most likely to go down. But if the goods are carried from Ashuganj to Akhaurausing Bangladeshi transport, and subsequently unloaded in the Akhaura Integrated Checkpost to be carried by Indian trucks, there would be a steep rise in prices."
Railway connectivity would also encourage industrial growth as raw materials are hardly available in Tripura. Even if available at insufficient amounts, the raw materials, followed by a transformation to finished products, lack the potential to be marketed.
Absence of strong connectivity justifies this factor. However, with the development of Indo-Bangla railway connectivity, raw materials from Bangladesh could be supplied to Tripura.
These raw materials can be manufactured into finished products and subsequently exported to Bangladesh in return. Northeast Indian states can be supplied with these finished products via Bangladesh as well.