Tripura got its first ever international waterway as five new protocol routes were announced between India and its eastern neighbour Bangladesh late Wednesday night, with Chief Minister Biplab Deb expressing hope that the state will emerge as ‘gateway of Northeast’ in future by tapping into bilateral connectivity and trade potential.
Sonamura-Daudkandi route on Tripura’s River Gomti and Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi routes were added to the list of Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes signed between the High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das and Bangladesh Shipping Secretary Md. Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury in Dhaka on Wednesday.
The Protocol on Transit and Trade (PTT) through inland waterways was first signed between People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Republic of India in 1972. The Protocol was last renewed in 2015 for five years with a provision for automatic renewal and further five years of long term assurance to stakeholders. The Protocol parameters were revised in the second addendum signed on Wednesday with inclusion of new routes and declaration of a host of new Ports of Call to facilitate trade between both the countries.
At present, there are 10 Indo-Bangla Protocol routes.
CM Deb took to Twitter on the issue and wrote, “On behalf of the people of Tripura I thank @PMOIndia Shri @narendramodiji & Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina for approving the Sonamura – Daudkhandi route as an Indo – Bangladesh protocol route. This route will boost State’s economy and Tripura will emerge as the gateway of Northeast.”
A press statement issued from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) informed today that the ‘landmark decision’ came six days after the Tripura CM wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and interacted with him on May 14 on the issue.
“This protocol route will strengthen bilateral trades of both countries, boost state’s economy and help Tripura emerge as the gateway to Northeast….. will improve the connectivity of Tripura and adjoining states with Bangladesh’s economic centres and will help the hinterland of both the countries to a great extent and also boost the bilateral trade between both the countries. This route will connect all existing IBP routes,” the statement reads.
The CMO statement also added that the new additions to the Indo-Bangla Protocol would facilitate bilateral trade with improved reliability and cost effectiveness for business community and people of both countries.
As per the revised protocol, a 93 km stretch of River Gomti in Tripura’s Sepahijala district connecting Sonamura on the Indian side and Daudkandi in Bangladesh and Rajhahi-Dhulian route would be in effect. While the Sonamura-Daudkhandi route is expected to improve connectivity between Tripura, Bangladesh and nearby Indian states, operationalising the Rajshahi-Dhulian route is expected to augment infrastructure in Bangladesh and reduce export cost from India.
The protocol revision also approved five new ports of call between the two nations. These are Dhulian, Maia, Kolaghat, Sonamura and Jogigopha on the Indian side and Rajshahi, Sultanganj, Chilmari, Daudkandi and Bahadurabad on Bangladesh side while two more extended Ports of Call were also included at Tribeli (West Bengal), Badarpur (Assam) on Indian side and Ghorasal, Muktarpur on Bangladesh side.
While India and Bangladesh share a good history of border trade since 1999, the new route on River Gomti would provide greater scope and potential, said Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industries (TCCI) president ML Debnath.
“Traders in Tripura imported materials worth an estimated value of Rs 500 crores before lockdown. This new route will surely give new avenues to border trade through the state,” Debnath said.
However, he added that while India barely charges a minimum import duty for products coming in from Bangladesh, Dhaka charges hefty duties on products exported from India, even at an exorbitant rate of 80 per cent in some cases.
Tripura is allowed to export eight products to Bangladesh though almost none of these can be exported in proper quantities due to high duty charges. On the other hand, there is no bar on importing any commodity from Bangladesh.