Economy

Cross-border trade with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh beginning to feel coronavirus pinch

Pratim Ranjan Bose Guwahati | Updated on March 17, 2020 Published on March 17, 2020

A Bangladeshi cargo-carrier crossing over to India at the Akhaura Land Customs Station near Agartala, the capital of Tripura. (file photo)   -  Ashoke Chakrabarty

Passenger movement along borders takes a beating with embargo on fresh issue of visas

The coronavirus outbreak is yet to significantly impact international trade along India’s land border. However, passenger movement is distinctly down at most border gates following an embargo on the fresh issue of visas.

The citizens of Nepal and Bhutan do not require a visa in India. The citizens of India and Myanmar can move 16 km inside each other’s territory without any visa.

No unofficial trade at Moreh

India has a total of 4,093 km of land border with these three countries (Nepal 1,751 km, Bhutan 699 km and Myanmar 1,643 km), similar to the length of the partly fenced Bangladesh border. The 3,488 km border with China and 3,323 km with Pakistan are heavily guarded.

According to sources from the Moreh (Manipur) border with Myanmar, people movement has come to a near grinding halt due to the virus scare. While there is barely any official trade through this gate, the Namphalong market on the Myanmarese side is closed to prevent the disease spread.

Namphalong had been a prime attraction for cross-border visitors, accounting for about ₹1,000 crore in unofficial trade between the two countries.

Concern at Nepal border

Bhutan became extremely cautious following the detection of its only Covid-19 case and was the first in the subcontinent to go for self-quarantine. The movement along the border is highly restricted now.

But the Nepal border has remained a cause for concern. Though officially people are expected to cross through designated places, sources suggested that unofficial movement along the border (particularly in Bihar) is continuing unabated.

Officials said all visitors are subjected to a mandatory health scan at Birgunj (Nepal)-Raxaul(Bihar), the largest Indo-Nepal gate. However, Nepalese journalists suggested out of over 5,000 people crossing the border daily, barely 1,000-1,500 are checked.

Activities down at Petrapole

Nepal and Bangladesh share the majority of India’s land border trade and passenger movement. Nepal’s imports, both from India and the rest of the world, hit the slow track in the first half of this fiscal, primarily due to a financial crisis. The situation is now improving.

Though imports from India remained 7 per cent less in January, a third of the country’s imports were distinctly up. At the Birgunj inland container depot, the monthly movement of container rakes (railway wagon) — carrying a third of the country’s cargo, from Kolkata and Visakhapatnam ports — is up nearly 45 per cent.

Goods along the Movgartala-Akhaura border between India and Bangladesh has reportedly gone up over the last two months. But the largest Indo-Bangla gate of Petrapole has been witnessing a 10-20 per cent drop in cargo loading over the past few days. Export cargo arrivals have slowed down, said clearing and forwarding agents at Petrapole.

Meanwhile, passenger movement along the official route is down to bare minimum. India issues nearly 17 lakh visas to Bangladeshis every year. Since March 13, barring special cases including medical emergencies, fresh visas are not issued. However, those who came to India before March 13 are allowed to go back.

Published on March 17, 2020
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