Santanu Sanyal

Kolkata, Jan. 5

THE Birgunj inland container depot (ICD) in Nepal is to be thrown open to India-Nepal bilateral trade from February 1, subject to the clearances by Customs authorities of the respective countries.

This was decided at a high-level meeting between the senior officials of the two countries in Kathmandu a few days ago. With this, the traffic throughput of Birgunj ICD, set up with the World Bank assistance of more than $23 million, is expected to rise sharply.

The Birgunj ICD was commissioned in July 2004. At present, it handles only third country containerised trade, i.e. containerised imports from and exports to countries other than India, routed through Kolkata port. Nepal being a land-locked country, Kolkata port provides the transit facility for its third country imports and exports.

Right now, there is a direct rail link between Kolkata port and the Birgunj ICD. A portion of Nepal's containerised imports through Kolkata port is transported by rail from the port right up to the ICD. Similarly, a small portion of the country's exports in containers too is sent by the same route to the port for shipments to third countries. However, there is a mismatch between imports and exports, with imports far exceeding exports. India's Container Corporation of India is the transporter of the boxes, both loaded and empties, between the ICD and the port.

The routing of the bilateral trade through the Birgunj ICD will push up the throughput of the ICD. This is because India accounts for nearly 60 per cent of Nepal's foreign trade. True, not the entire volume of the bilateral trade will be routed through Birgunj as there are several other border points such as Biratnagar-Jogbani, Bhairahawa-Sunauli and Nepalgunj-Rupadiya, which also handle the trade, mainly by road. But the Birgunj-Raxaul border point handles a large chunk of the bilateral trade. Also, the Birgunj-Raxaul point provides the only rail connectivity between the two countries and the advantages of rail-borne trade are more than those of the road-borne one.

Once the Birgunj ICD starts handling the bilateral trade, containerised exports from any part of India to Nepal could be sent straight by rail to the ICD. Similarly, exports in containers from Nepal to India too could be routed through the ICD and transported by rail to any part of India.

Most important, the movement of even non-containerised traffic, i.e., cement or foodgrains or any other item, including bulk items which are now transported in wagons (not in containers) too will become much easier between the two countries. Right now the non-containerised exports from India by rail and passing through the Raxaul-Birgunj border point are transported in wagons up to Raxaul, the last Indian railway station, where the consignments are unloaded from wagons and then reloaded in trucks for entry into Birgunj and onward movement into Nepalese territory. This unloading and reloading of consignments at Raxaul will now become redundant. The same operation will now be undertaken within Birgunj ICD.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 6, 2005)
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