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Northeast India welcomes govt's decision to open Chittagong port

  • Published at 01:50 pm September 24th, 2018
File photo of containers piled up in Chittagong port Dhaka Tribune

It will now take goods 3-4 days to reach Tripura from Mumbai—reduced from 15-20 days

A Bangladeshi government decision to let India transport freight through Chittagong and Mongla ports has been welcomed by the neighbouring country’s northeastern states. 

The finance ministers of both Tripura and Assam said opening up the Bangladeshi seaports will strengthen their connectivity to trade and the rest of India.

“Chittagong provides the fastest possible access to a port from northeast India (and) will help increase connectivity within that region,” Assam's Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

The opening up of Chittagong Port to Indian cargo will also bolster the trade prospects of Tripura, the state’s deputy chief minister said. 

"Strong connectivity is mandatory for removing trade barriers and flourishing trade," Jishnu Debbarman, who is also responsible for Tripura’s finance portfolio, said. 

"Earlier, the lack of connectivity was extremely disadvantageous, but the Bangladeshi government's decision to open up the Chittagong port has offered us a possibility of prosperity."

Under the deal approved by cabinet on September 17, Bangladesh will take the bond equivalent to duties and taxes from Indian companies. 

Charges, fees and carrying costs in addition to regular duty and taxes will be charged according to the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (Gatt) principle.

Despite the levies, experts say the agreement will help reduce overall transportation costs in the region while helping to cement the goodwill between the two countries.

“With the usage of Chittagong port, goods will be able to reach Tripura expeditiously, reducing transportation costs immensely,” Moti Lal Debnath, the president of Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

"Previously it took 15-20 days for goods to reach Tripura from Mumbai. Now, it will only take 3-4 days for those goods to reach us via the Chittagong port."

Debnath believed the agreement will also be advantageous for Bangladesh, as the country will be able to earn revenue from shipments going through Chittagong’s port.

However, he dismissed the notion of opening up Mongla port on the same terms. “It has no direct connectivity to the northeastern states (so) Mongla Port is hardly of any value to us," he said.

The four suggested routes for transporting the goods are: Chittagong Port to Mongla Port-Agartala via Akhaura; Chittagong to Mongla-Daouki via Tamabil; Chittagong to Mongla-Sutarkandi via Sheola; and Chittagong/Mongla to Bibekbazar via Simantapur.

Indraneel Bhowmik, associate professor of Economics at Tripura Central University, believes that small and micro-medium industries will now register growth due to the increase in connectivity via the Chittagong port.

"There has not been a huge amount of productivity in Northeast India until now," he said. "However, small and micro industries will flourish, as strong connectivity is intrinsically required for industry growth."

The associate professor said the cost of living for the citizens in northeast India will also decrease concurrently with transportation costs.

"If finished products from this region reach the open market via the Chittagong port, they will sell more due to low costs," he said. " If raw materials, as well as finished products, reach us via port, the costs of goods will fall - allowing commoners to reap the dividends."

Also Read- Cabinet allows India to use Chittagong, Mongla ports

Eminent journalist and academic Sanjoy Hazarika, a former correspondent with The New York Times, said the deceased legendary journalist B G Verghese had been pushing for the trade link “for a very long time”.

“Now his efforts are bearing fruit,” he said. “Bangladesh’s decision to open up Chittagong port to India will definitely be beneficial for Northeast India. It will be two-way traffic and will help to transform the sub-regional economy.” 

Special correspondent for the Telegraph, Sekhar Datta, stressed the potential benefit to Bangladesh of the move. 

"Bangladesh will earn a lot of revenue through the shipments passing to the Northeast through the Chittagong port (and) this will also strengthen the goodwill between Bangladesh and India," he said.

At the same time, Datta also expressed his opinion that the issue of opening up the ports should be separated from the ongoing discourse over the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in northeast India.  

"Publishing the NRC is the fundamental right of a country," Datta said. "A country has the right to identify its citizens and non-citizens. The relationship between India and Bangladesh should have no link to the issue of NRC."

The benefits of opening the ports are: 

•    The Chittagong port will provide the fastest possible access for a port in Northeast India

•    Transportation costs will be reduced drastically due to the faster route 

•    Cost of living in Northeast India will decrease concurrently with the transportation costs 

•    Tripura's trade prospects will flourish with the usage of the Chittagong port

•    Small and micro-medium industries in Tripura will register growth due to increased connectivity via the Chittagong port

•    The Chittagong port will help increase connectivity within Assam

•    Previously, it would take 15-20 days for goods to reach Tripura from Mumbai- via the Chittagong port, it will only take 3-4 days 

•    Bangladesh will also benefit from the agreement, as the country will earn revenues from the shipments