Economy

At this Indo-Bangla border gate, ‘free trade’ flows 24x7

Abhishek Law Petrapole | Updated on January 09, 2018

Vehicles entering Bangladesh from the integrated check post at Petrapole, India. - Debasish Bhaduri

Trucks queued at Petrapole awaiting their turn to enter Bangladesh. - Debasish Bhaduri

Trucks and motor vehicles that have the necessary clearances, called 'let export order', waiting at Petrapole. - Debasish Bhaduri

Round-the-clock Customs clearance opens at Petrapole-Benapole post

At 7.31 pm on August 1, Sukhbir Singh drove his Ashok Leyland truck chassis, registration number TN70TC290, from Petrapole on the Indian side of the border with Bangladesh, to Benapole, just across.

And with that, he rode into a slice of border trade history.

It was the first export consignment to enjoy the benefit of 24x7, seven-days-a-week Customs clearance facility introduced by India and Bangladesh at the largest trade point on their border.

Located about 90 km from Kolkata, Petrapole-Benapole handles about $3.4 billion (or about ₹22,000 crore) of the $6-billion bilateral trade. In 2016-17, Indian exports accounted for more than 70 per cent of the trade through this gate.

Till July 31, the Integrated Check Post (ICP) was open from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm, six days a week; everyday, about 350 Indian trucks rolled over to Bangladesh, and 80-odd Bangladeshi trucks entered India.

Dhaka needs ramp-up

Suvajit Mandal, Manager, ICP Petrapole, says round-the-clock operations should increase the daily traffic of Indian vehicles to Bangladesh to 500, and ease congestion on the Indian side.

Faster turnaround means lower trade costs and greater competitiveness of Indian products, which is good for Bangladesh too. But Bangladeshi consumers may have to wait to reap the full benefit. Till July, Bangladesh Customs was clearing 200 Indian trucks a day. Given the backlog, it takes a trucker up to seven days to unload an export consignment at Benapole and return.

The turnaround time in Bangladesh may come down from August 1, but not significantly. Indian sources say Bangladeshi Customs suffers from inadequate staff strength.

“Bangladesh authorities have assured us that manpower will be increased and peripheral facilities like parking will improve,” an Indian Customs official told BusinessLine.

Due to slow pace of border clearance, a truck takes 22 days, including two weeks on the Indian side, to complete its trade run.

Assuming each truck caries an export consignment worth ₹1 crore, the finance cost for three weeks is nearly ₹66,000 at the minimum lending rate. Add to this the vehicle detention charge of ₹ 5,000 a day, and Bangladesh loses 2 per cent on the total import value.

Indian officials say faster clearances can increase trade volume through Petrapole by three times.

Bongaon makes a killing

Meanwhile, the border town of Bongaon, located 7 km ahead of the ICP, is taking full advantage of the situation.

At least 3,500 Indian trucks wait on the Indian side on any given day. These include 2,000 trucks that have to wait nearly 10 days at Bongaon before they get a parking slot at the Petrapole ICP.

The Bongaon municipality accommodates 1,200 trucks, but the rest are at the mercy of private parking lots, where contractors charge an upfront fee of ₹4,200 for seven days. Truckers allege the business is controlled by political goons.

“About 70 per cent of Bongaon’s economy depends on this congestion,” said an ICP official, on condition of anonymity.

Published on August 02, 2017

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