India-Bangladesh rail and coastal shipping being restored

India-Bangladesh rail and coastal shipping being restored

Agartala/Chennai, November 7 (  Rail and coastal shipping links between India and Bangladesh are being restored. A coastal shipping service has already started with a vessel taking a cargo of 185 Ashok Leyland trucks from Chennai to Mongla port in Bangladesh last month.

“Bangladesh will restore the railway lines with India at 12 places, which were snapped after the partition of the country in 1947 and wars in 1965 and 1971, for stronger bilateral ties,” its Railways Minister Mohammad Mazibul Hoque said during his visit to Agartala last week for a two-day program “Setubandhan” or bridge of bonding.

The tracks that survived the war were abandoned after India converted the meter gauge lines to broad gauge.

Tripura’s transport minister Manik Dey said he raised the issue of railway connectivity during his meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka two years ago.

“Dhaka asked India to conduct a survey of all the missing rail links between the two countries,” Dey said.

Of the 12 old links, land acquisition for the one linking Tripura’s capital Agartala to Akhaura in Bangladesh on the Indian side has also been completed. This project will include the laying of 15 km of track – 5 km in India – and is estimated to cost Rs 967.5 crore (Rs 9.670 billion) and scheduled to be completed by December next year.

The Agartala-Akhaura line is the outcome of an agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka in 2013. The track is envisaged to be the part of the Trans-Asian Railway between Istanbul and Singapore via Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Agartala-Akhaura railway line would facilitate carriage of goods to and from both the countries and greatly benefit India’s land-locked northeastern states.

The journey time between Agartala and Kolkata, via Bangladesh, would be reduced by a third, from 1,613 km through mountainous terrain to a mere 514 km.

Former railways minister Suresh Prabhu and Hoque laid its foundation stone on July 31 last year.

The Tripura government has also proposed rail connectivity between the state’s Jawaharnagar and Kalay in Myanmar via Mizoram’s Darlawn covering a distance of 257 km. A 95-km stretch is missing from an old railway line connecting Kalay and Singapore via Thailand and Malaysia.

Tripura was connected through other rail lines to Bangladesh more than half a century ago. These included Belonia-Feni (Bangladesh), Khowai-Akhaura via Balla in Bangladesh, and Amarpur to Bhairab Bazaar (Bangladesh). Assam was also connected through lines between Karimganj and Mahishasan up to Chittagong in Bangladesh.

West Bengal has four old tracks that lead to Bangladesh.

“The northeast suffered economically after the rail lines for transporting tea and other products of the region were cut off by the mid-1960s,” chairperson of Tripura Industrial Development Corporation Pabitra Kar said.

coastal vessel

Rajen Gohain, the Junior Railway Minister, said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government is determined to empower the northeast through broad gauge connectivity.

“We are committed to doing what the region needs for faster communication,” he said.

Coastal shipping

India has formally flagged off a ship carrying 185 trucks from Chennai Port for Mongla Port as part of promoting the coastal shipping route for trade with Bangladesh.

The ship is expected to reach Mongla in five days as against 20-25 days by road, Indian newspaper Business Standard reported as Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari flagged off the ship on Saturday.

He also called on all automobile manufacturers to use coastal shipping as the mode for transporting their vehicles.

So far, such trucks being exported by Ashok Leyland were being sent to Bangladesh through the land route, travelling a distance of about 1,500 kilometres, according to Firstpost.

For this trip alone, a total of around 300,000 kilometres of road travel will be saved along with the time usually lost at the congested Petrapole-Benapole checkpoint at the India-Bangladesh border, an Indian shipping ministry statement said.

The coastal shipping agreement between India and Bangladesh was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June 2015. The agreement is operational since last year.

Based on the agreement, sea transportation from Indian to Bangladesh ports is being treated as the coastal movement, making it eligible for 40 percent concession on vessel related and cargo related charges.

According to the Firstpost, a Roll-on-Roll-off (RoRo)-cum-general cargo vessel is being used for this shipment.

For coastal movement through RoRo vessels, 80 percent concession on vessel related and cargo related charges are applicable in Indian ports, the Shipping Ministry said.