Truck movements via Petrapole resume after conditional nod from West Bengal govt

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on June 07, 2020

Trucks stuck along the India-Bangladesh border in Petrapole since March   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Export cargo movement to Bangladesh, via road, resumed at the Petrapole land port, 80 km from Kolkata, from Sunday. Truck movement in the largest land port in Asia had come to a standstill for nearly 75 days, post a coronavirus-induced lockdown and lack of clarity in the orders at a local authority level.

Nearly, 2,000 trucks were stranded in the area since March. Barring a brief period of three-odd days, between April-end and beginning of May, road cargo movement remained suspended. Resumption is subject to fulfilment of conditions like creating a drivers’ pool, use of PPEs by drivers, fumigation of vehicles, among others.

Petrapole, located in the North 24-Parganas district of West Bengal, accounts for a chunk of the $11-billion India-Bangladesh bilateral trade. Perishables apart, a number of industrial items and vehicle chassis, make their way into Bangladesh through the Petrapole-Benapole ICPs. (Benapole is the land port located on the Bangladesh side.)

The five other land ports in West Bengal though which truck movements to Bangladesh happen include Gojadanga (North 24 Parganas); Mahadipur (Malda) — the second largest land port in the State; Changrabandha (Cooch Behar); Hili (Dakshin Dinajpur); and Fulbari (Japlaiguri).

Incidentally, cargo movement via road resumed at Mahadipur, 400 km from Kolkata.

The Union Home Ministry has been urging the West Bengal government to resume trade at international borders (via road). Apprehensions over spread of Covid-19 and local resistance in some cases (fearing spread of infection) have held back decisions.

Phase-wise movements

Exporters say, around 20-25 trucks have been cleared for movement on Sunday at Pertrapole. The numbers will go up from Monday onwards. The target is set for at least 200 vehicles daily.

“Truck movements have been allowed based on certain conditions agreed during a stakeholders’ meet held on June 4. The SDO (sub divisional officer) has also issued orders accordingly. We have been urging for renewal of trade at Petrapole since livelihood of nearly 10,000-15,000 families are dependent on the trade here,” Karthik Chakraborty, Secretary, Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association, told BusinessLine.

In the first phase, 231-odd trucks that are parked at the Petrapole ICP or near its vicinity will be cleared. The documentation process has started.

Another 572 are parked at a facility managed by the local municipal body; and around 1,300-odd have registered for loading-unloading operations but are now parked at different non-registered / private parking lots nearby.

“All stranded export bound vehicles are to be cleared by June 14,” minutes of the stakeholders meeting held on June 4 reads.

Conditional nod

The State government has put in place certain conditions that stakeholders (exporters and transport associations) need to follow. Movement will happen between 6 am and 6 pm only, with trucks unloading on the Bangladeshi side on the same day. Documentation of such trucks must be done a day in advance.

Another condition includes identifying a “pool of 100 truck drivers” (locals, intra-State truck drivers, or those in inter-State vehicles) and only this “pool” will be allowed to go up to Benapole ICP. They will return after unloading goods and the drivers will stay at the ICP and not venture out.

Export-bound vehicles will go 500 meters into the ICP and drivers won’t get off on the Bangladeshi side “and positively won’t get in touch with Bangladeshi nationals working in the port.” A second pool of 50 drivers will be kept as back-up.

Trucks and drivers from other States waiting at Bongaon (the area where most vehicles are parked) for the last three months will proceed to Bangladesh with the loaded trucks and will move out of the State, once the vehicles are unloaded, according to one of the conditions.

Incidentally, the nod given is for export vehicles only. Standard operating procedures for import-bound vehicles (those coming in from Bangladesh) are yet to be finalised, say sources.

Published on June 07, 2020

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