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India-Bangladesh trade via road resumes at Mahadipur; plan may be replicated at other land ports in WB

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on June 04, 2020 Published on June 04, 2020

Exports to Bangladesh, especially via road, have resumed from the Mahadipur land port, in Malda district of West Bengal. This followed a meeting of exporters and transport operators in the region with local authorities, urging them to resume the trade via road.

Mahadipur, located 400 kms from Kolkata in the northern Bengal region, is the second largest land port after Petropole in North 24-Parganas. It accounts for nearly $700 million worth of annual trade; out of the $11 billion bilateral trade between the two the countries. Nearly, 500 trucks cross-through on a daily basis carrying both perishable and non-perishable items.

Over the last 70 days, a coronavirus-induced-lockdown and a subsequent absence in clarity in orders at a district administration level saw truck movements come to stand still across the six land ports of West Bengal.

Nearly, 8,000 trucks stuck across these places that include Mahadipur, Changrabandha (Cooch Behar), Fulbari (Jalpaiguri), Hilli (Dakshin Dinajpur) and Ghojadanga and Petrapole, according to reports.

Trade resumes at Mahadipur

According to sources, some 86 trucks mostly carrying produce such as onions, maize and fruits and animal feed and other items have been allowed to load and unload goods at the Sonamasjid check-point (in the Chapai Nawabganj district of Bangladesh), on Thursday. Some 18 empty trucks have also returned.

“Trade has resumed at Mahadipur, between 8 am and 1.30 pm, with vehicles carrying both essentials and non-essentials being allowed to pass through. This happened after the district magistrate and State government officials stepped-in to resolve the deadlock,” Samir Ghosh, Executive Secretary, Exporters’ Association Mahadipur (Malda), told BusinessLine.

Incidentally, district administration officials said that some conditions have been put to resume truck movement. These are also a part of the measures the State government is taking to prevent spread of coronavirus.

Mahadipur Model

This includes identifying a “pool of 50 local truck drivers” who alone will be allowed to go up to ‘Panama parking lot in Bangladesh’, some 200 meter from the international border. They will return after unloading goods.

This pool of drivers will “also not move anywhere else in the neighbouring country” or within the “district of Malda (in West Bengal India) till their quarantine period is over”. This pool will work for 15 days at a stretch. After that, another batch of 50 drivers will step in. Drivers, who will enter Bangladesh, will have to stay at an isolation centre, close to the border, during non-working hours.

“Numbers of vehicles entering Bangladesh are expected to double to 200 tomorrow onwards,” Ghosh added.

More takers for the Mahadipur model

According to Rabindranath Ghosh, Minister-in-Charge, North Bengal Development, said “We will see if that model can be replicated in other land ports of the north Bengal region. Business and international trade has come to a standstill. We have to resume trade. Lives of many people depend on it.”

“As of now, the model adopted in Mahadipur looks like a workable solution,” Ghosh added.

In Hili and Changrabandha, discussions with exporters and transport associations may be taken up soon.

No resolution in Petrapole

Meanwhile, the issues related to exports through Petrapole, the largest land port that accounts for the majority of trade between India and Bangladesh, have not yet been resolved.

The State government allowed resumption of exports on May 11, following the Centre’’s notification on cross-border trade, but fear among locals over the spread of coronavirus from the returning truckers stalled the plan.

In Gojadanga too, there has been no resolution to the deadlock.

“We have written to the Chief Minister to intervene and have also pointed out to the local authorities why trade at zero point is not a feasible option. There is still no clarity on resolving the deadlock,” Karthik Charaborty, Secretary, Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association said.

At least 10,000-15,000 families who are directly dependent on the international truck movement face an uncertain future.

Jyotipriyo Mallik, Minister-in-charge of Food supplies and the Trinamool Congress’ in-charge of North 24-Parganas district, were not available for comments.

Published on June 04, 2020
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