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Shipping Ministry enlarges ambit of Indo-Bangla protocol route

India is eyeing a greater push for cargo movement along the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route, which includes use of coastal waters, increased access and use of Mongla and Chattogram ports in the neighbouring country, and improving connectivity via its inland waterways routes. 

The pitch now is towards inclusion of more ports in Bangladesh, including Safardighi and Payra.

The move aims at strengthening connectivity with the North-East, while improving international ties with our neighbours.

While Safardighi is being looked at as an additional ‘Port of Call’ under the protocol route, there is a push towards inclusion of Payra sea port in the ‘Agreement on use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports’ (ACMP). The latter is expected to help movement of goods between the two countries, and Sabroom (in Tripura) via Ramgarh. Issues like faster berthing of vessels and barges using ACMP trade routes was also deliberated upon.

Talks are on to grant Dhamra Port in Bhadrak district of Odisha – and one of South Asia’s largest all-weather ports having a deep draft enough to accommodate super-cape size vessels – similar “Port of Call” status, an official in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) said.

Strengthening Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route  

Cargo movement along the India-Bangladesh route has seen a 170 per cent jump over a nine-year period, senior officials in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, told businessline

From 2 million tonnes per annum (MMTPA) in FY15, it went up to around 3 MMTPA in FY20 (pre-Covid), while current data with the Ministry pegs cargo movement at 5.4 MMTPA. 

Under the existing transit and trade protocol agreement between India and Bangladesh, inland vessels of one country can transit through specified routes of the other country. The move is seen as a major drive towards towards improving connectivity in the North-East. 

The protocol routes currently operational are Kolkata-Pandu-Kolkata; Kolkata-Karimganj-Kolkata; Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi; and the Pandu-Karimganj-Pandu waterways. 

Under the existing protocol, there are 12 ports of call between the two countries, including Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj, Pandu, Shilghat and Dhubri in India and Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj, Ashuganj and Pangaon in Bangladesh. The newly added ports of call are Dhulian, Maia, Kolaghat, Sonamura and Jogigopha in India, and Rajshahi, Sultanganj, Chilmari, Daudkandi and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh. 

The two extended ports of call under discussion are Tribeni under Kolkata and Karimganj under Badarpur port of call in India; and Ghorashal under Narayanganj and Muktarpur under Pangaon port of call in Bangladesh. 

Under the protocol route, 50:50 cargo sharing by Indian and Bangladeshi vessels is permitted both for transit and inter-country trade.

At a recent Ministerial level meeting, it was also agreed to form a technical team to study inclusion of the Chandpur-Chittagong stretch in the India-Bangladesh Protocol route, a MoPSW official told businessline.

It has also been agreed that Bangladesh will submit a proposal for development of more routes, namely protocol routes 5 & 6, that cover Maia near Farakka in India to Aricha in Bangladesh, connecting India’s NW1 to NW2 (rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra), and 9 & 10 – which cover Sonamura- Daudkhandi stretch of Gumti River (93 km) and is aimed at improving connectivity to Tripura – on 80:20 cost sharing basis.

“This will be examined by the Indian side to consider for implementation,” the official said. 

Work is underway along the Sirajganj-Daikhowa and Ashuganj-Zakiganj routes that are being developed at a cost of Rs 305.84 crore on an an 80 (India) – 20 (Bangladesh) sharing basis. 

The development of these stretches is expected to provide seamless navigation to NER via the IBP route. The contracts for dredging on the two stretches to maintain the requisite depth for a period of seven years (from 2019 to 2026) is underway. 

Other Deliberations

As per a MoPSW statement, three high-level talks were held between the two countries at Dhaka. These include Shipping Secretary Level Talks (SSLT), a meeting of the Standing Committee under Protocol on Inland Water Transit & Trade, and an Inter-Governmental Committee meeting on use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for to-and-fro movement of goods.

Bangladesh agreed to use the Pangaon container terminal in the interimfor transshipment of containers until the Ashuganj Inland Container Terminal is fully operational. 

A location for a drop-in centre for Bangladesh would be identified near Kolkata in the next four months. 

“A team from Bangladesh will look into ways to ascertain the technical feasibility and commercial viability of third-party EXIM trade for the benefit of both countries,” the official said. 

Recent deliberations with Bangladesh also took up easing visa issuance, shore-leave facility and repatriation for seafarers. 

“It was agreed to declare the land route at LCS  (land customs stations) Radhikapur (Birol) and Hodibari (Chilahati) to extend trade and connectivity,” officials said. 

Bangladesh has also agreed to form a joint committee to implement a common Automatic Identification System (AIS) on the IBP route, for better vessel navigation and tracking. 

Discussions are also on to include the Mongla-Jamtola stretch for passenger and cruise vessels to the Sunderbans area in Bangladesh.


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