LPAI, Tripura govt look to make Agartala land port a tourist spot

Pratim Ranjan Bose Agartala | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on January 26, 2018

Akhaura Land Customs Station near Agartala. A file photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

What makes Agartala different is perhaps the attitude of the State government, which is geared to improve ties with Bangladesh and facilitates creation of better border facilities.

“I have been to at least a dozen airports in India and Bangladesh. The passenger amenities at Agartala land port will put some of them to shame,” said Dr Sayeed Md Ali, 35, of Brahmanbaria in Bangladesh. He was rushing to catch the evening flight to Kolkata for the treatment of his son.

Ali is not wrong. Inaugurated in November 2013, the second one after Attari on Pakistan border, the Integrated Check Post (ICP), run by the Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI), is an exception among the sea of chaos along India’s thousands of km of land border with its Eastern neighbours.

LPAI opened the third ICP at Petrapole — the largest gate with Bangladesh — near Kolkata, in July 2016. But, it still lacks a modern passenger terminal. The painstakingly slow journey along the 70-km stretch from Kolkata to Petrapole is an added pain.

Two ultra-modern facilities at Raxaul and Jogbani on Nepal border are lying unutilised for more than a year as the related work on the Nepalese side of the gate is inordinately delayed.

State cooperation

What makes Agartala different is perhaps the attitude of the State government, which is geared to improve ties with Bangladesh and facilitates creation of better border facilities. It is now pushing LPAI to convert the Land Customs Station (Srimantapur) into a land port, set up a new ICP at Sabroom and expand the Agartala ICP.

There is a reason behind Tripura’s keenness. Dhaka is barely 144 km from Agartala. If the BBIN (Butan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal) motor vehicle treaty (MVA) is implemented, the distance between Agartala and Kolkata will reduce from 1,570 km (a clear two-day journey through the Siliguri corridor) to just 463 km.

That’s not all. Bangladesh agreed to offer Tripura access to Chittagong port, which is barely 205 km from Agartala. Till that comes up, Ashugunj river terminal in Bangladesh, located 57 km from Agartala, offers low-cost transport option between Kolkata to Tripura.

Lastly, Tripura depends on Bangladesh for low-cost supplies of bulk materials (like cement) and some food items. An average of 100 Bangladesh trucks carrying mostly cement and some fish, report to Agartala ICP every day.

The imports through this gate stood at ₹160 crore during April-December 2017. Exports were nil, due to restrictions imposed by Bangladesh on imports. This is particularly impacting the horticulture producers in the North East. At a recent joint working group meeting Bangladeshi officials agreed to review the decision.

Tourist spot

Meanwhile, LPAI and the State government has taken up a slew of projects to make the Agartala ICP a tourist spot.

LPAI has sanctioned ₹4.75 crore. The State brought in ₹10 crore from a Central Tourism Ministry assistance to beautify a 5- acre lake in a part of the unused land under LPAI, set up cafeteria, build a gallery to watch the daily Beating Retreat ceremonies between the security forces on both sides.

The State will also widen and beautify the 1.5-km road to the Land Port under the Smart City project.

The Land Ports authority has also requisitioned additional 12-acre land (over and above the existing 25 acres) to sanitise the entire area and create provisions for a second terminal exclusively for cargo handling.

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Published on January 26, 2018
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