Lack of connectivity between the Northeast and mainland India has been amongst the main causes of economic backwardness for the Seven Sisters. Poor connectivity dissociates the region from economic and welfare benefits, and impedes investment—no surprise that Tripura, at $919, has amongst the lowest GDP per capita of any state in the country. Therefore, it is good news that Bangladesh has agreed to allow FCI to transport PDS grains to Tripura. The Ashuganj port, situated at a tributary of Ganga towards the mid-eastern part of Bangladesh, would then help cut the otherwise 1,650-km long road journey to only 350 km (with Agartala being only 50 km from Ashuganj). The use of Ashuganj, of course, owes a lot to ONGC, which pursued this vigorously as it was the only way to transport gas turbines to its Tripura plant.
Such cooperation between the two neighbours, and the upholding of the 2010 amendment to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit between Bangladesh and India is well and good, but focus now should be on a mutually beneficial upgrade of infrastructure. This should allow more goods to be transmitted between Northeast and mainland India, and provide more jobs and revenue to Bangladeshis. However, despite its strategic utility, Ashuganj port remains shoddy, and woefully inadequate to handle large volumes of goods transported. According to a Bangladeshi government core committee, more than $6 billion is required to improve transit facilities in Bangladesh. But the problem is also that, after having got Bangladesh to agree to using Ashuganj for transportation, India has done little to keep its side of the bargain of the Protocol, which was development of the port. This also has profound strategic implications.