Logistics

Lack of inter-ministerial coordination impedes land port projects on the border

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on January 03, 2018

Two of the three functioning ICPs—Attari on the Pakistan border (pictured above) and Akhaura in Tripura on the Bangladesh border —became operation al under UPA rule

Only three out of the seven proposed Integrated Check Posts are up and running

Improving border trade logistics with neighbours was one of the priorities of the Narendra Modi government. Accelerated implementation of the seven Integrated Check Posts (ICP), which had been pending for one-and-a-half decades, was the cornerstone of the initiative.

Four years later, the project has made limited progress, as only three out of the seven proposed ICPs are functioning. Two of them — Attari on Pakistan border and Akhaura in Tripura on Bangladesh border — came into operation during the UPA rule.

Delays

And there is still a lot of work pending in the three operational ICPs.

For example, the Petrapole (West Bengal) ICP, which was inaugurated by Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in July 2016, is yet to have a modern passenger terminal and an immigration facility.

Petrapole handles the majority of the $7.5-billion bilateral trade between the counties, and the 13 lakh Bangladeshis who arrive in India every year.

Among other projects, construction of an ICP at Dawki on Meghalaya-Bangladesh border, will take at least two more years.

The Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI), under the Home Ministry, completed the Indian side of Raxaul (Bihar)-Birgunj and Jogbani (Bihar)-Biratnagar ICPs more than a year ago, but the External Affairs Ministry-funded mirror facility on the Nepalese side is yet to be completed. And till the entire project is ready, the ICPs are of little use as a land port cannot operate in isolation.

The Indian side of the ICP at Moreh (Manipur) on Myanmar border is expected to be ready this summer.

But it will have little impact on formal trade as India and Myanmar are yet to enter the pact for ICP-based trade. There is is no matching facility on the Myanmarese side of the border, either.

Even though the seven ICPs were planned in 2003, the proposal to convert 13 Land Customs Stations (operated by Commerce Ministry) into ICPs is still awaiting clearance from the Centre.

Once the Centre sanctions funds, it will be the responsibility of the States to make the land available.

Coordination issues

Proposed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the ICP projects became a non-starter from day one due to inter-ministerial issues.

To solve the tangle, the Centre proposed to create LPAI in 2010. The authority was assigned to build and manage the Indian side of the land ports. LPAI started functioning in 2012, by which time Attari ICP was complete, Akhaura was near complete and Petrapole construction had started.

One necessary evil of this legacy is a design flaw. None of the ICPs, for example, have provisions for the accommodation of the security forces. They are made to live in cargo sheds or other such makeshift facilities.

The creation of LPAI may have brought in some structure on the designing aspect, but the operational problems continued due to involvement of at least four ministries — Home, Commerce, Finance and Railways — and multiple agencies within the same ministry.

For example, immigration authorities, though under the Home Ministry, have fewer meeting points with LPAI. A proposal for building a passenger terminal, an additional parking space and an accommodation of security forces at Petrapole have been supposedly making rounds at the Home Ministry for a year.

Top officials of the Home and the Finance Ministries have been debating over a small piece of unused land held by Customs at Attari border, for the past three years. LPAI wants it to build an accommodation for security forces there; Customs doesn’t want to part with the land due to ‘sentimental’ reasons. Last but not the least, the MEA works in its own pace, which is rarely in tandem with the priorities set by LPAI or the Commerce Ministry. LPAI has completed the Jogbani ICP. But work for Biratnagar has just started. The standard reply for delays is tendering issues.

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Published on January 03, 2018
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