Friendly route

The friendly gesture of Bangladesh allowing the transport of rice from India through the maritime route to Tripura again underlines the potential for beneficial co-operation between the two countries.

In a pilot project the Food Corporation of India (FCI) shipped 5,000 tonnes of rice from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to Kolkata, from where it was transported to Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh and then taken to Agartala which is only 37 km away.

The Bangladesh route reduced the distance from Kolkata to Agartala over land from 1,650 km to 350 km by river. The saving in time and cost is very huge, especially because river transport is much cheaper than road transport. Dhaka’s consent came after long negotiations and now more consignments are planned to be sent to Tripura by the same route.

The difficulties of transporting  goods to the north-eastern states because of the long distance, geographical and logistical problems and the threat posed by insurgents are well-known. Overland road and rail transit through Bangladesh would solve many of these problems and Dhaka is willing to grant these facilities provided India is accommodative on the land boundary and river water sharing issues between the two countries.

Agreements on swap of land enclaves and Teesta water sharing are ready. But they are stuck because of opposition from the Trinamool Congress government of West Bengal. The BJP had also opposed the land boundary agreement when it was in the opposition. Its position may have changed now. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit last month to Dhaka was positive, though it did not lead to any concrete results.

The NDA government has indicated that it will pay greater attention to improving ties with neighbours. India should not be found wanting in responding to the friendly gestures made by Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made special  efforts to address India’s security concerns and to improve bilateral trade and economic relations.

Permission for use of the maritime route to Tripura is yet another act of goodwill.  It may be possible to make it a permanent arrangement for transport  of goods to other states of the north-east too. It will greatly benefit the people of those states and be a source of revenue for the Bangladesh government.

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