The refusal of the Inland Water Transport Authority of Bangladesh to allow Indian vessels calling at Ashuganj river port is surprising, feel river transport operators.

River transporters engaged in the transportation of goods to Bangladesh and to the North-East via Bangladesh, are not hopeful of the success of Food Corporation of India’s bid to send 10,000 tonnes of rice by river route to Agartala via Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh.

“A similar move last year did not succeed due to the refusal of the authorities concerned in Bangladesh to allow Indian flag vessels to call at Ashuganj,” observe river transport operators .

“There is no indication as yet of any change in Bangladesh’s stand.”

The refusal of the Inland Water Transport Authority of Bangladesh to allow Indian vessels calling at Ashuganj is surprising, it is felt.

After all, Ashuganj is included in the India-Bangladesh Protocol on Trade & Transit as one of the ports of call.

Also, under Clause 23 of the Protocol, Ashuganj is permitted to handle trans-shipment cargo transiting through it to reach India. In fact, Ashuganj did handle recently huge volumes of project cargo for ONGC’s power plant being set up at Palatana in Tripura.

The real reason for present reluctance is different, say river transport sources here. “Until and unless the Teesta river treaty is signed between the two countries, there is no chance of Bangladesh welcoming any more vessels and cargo from India for trans-shipment through Ashuganj,” the sources said .

The North-East being deficit in food, FCI is required to send large quantities of foodgrains to the region for distribution through the public distribution system.

The Railway bottleneck is huge and road movement from Kolkata to Agartala via Guwahat, covering a distance of over 1,600 km, is prohibitively costly.

Ashuganj, being only 50 km from Agartala by road, the inter-modal transportation, namely, Kolkata to Ashuganj by river route, and then Ashuganj to Agartala by road, is considered the cheapest mode of transportation to send foodgrains to Tripura. Once a trial run succeeds, FCI proposes to undertake movement of much larger volumes on this route.

Alternate inter-modal route

The alternate route, also an inter-modal one — from Kolkata to Karimganj (Assam) by river route a large part of which is through Bangladesh and again from Karimganj to Agartala by road covering a distance of about 275 km — is not favoured due to the high road transportation cost between Karimganj and Agartala. Also, the water level in the Kolkata-Karinganj river route, particularly on the Kushiara (Bangladesh)-Barak (Assam) stretch, drops to a low level from November . At Ashuganj, on other hand, the water level in the river is adequate throughout the year.

Other problems faced

Problems like pilferage, resistance of the strong road transport lobby to alternative cheaper mode of transportation, and vested interests, also pose serious threats to FCI’s bid, it is learnt.

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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