India has negotiated a deal with Bangladesh to transport subsidised food grain meant for northeastern states through the neighbour’s territory. Dhaka has agreed to India’s proposal to take food grain from Kolkata to Tripura via Bangladesh’s Ashuganj river port along the Padma river. While India hopes to save significantly in transportation costs, the Bangladesh economy will benefit from port charges and job creation.
Currently, it is a tough task for the Food Corporation of India to carry PDS grain to most of the northeast due to tough geographical terrain, vagaries of nature and insurgent groups’ blockades. A truck must negotiate more than 1,650 km to carry grain from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati — a distance which can be slashed to 350 km if the Bangladesh route is used.
According to sources, as part of a pilot project, FCI, in collaboration with the Inland Waterways Authority of India under the shipping ministry, has called for tenders from private players to transport food grain from Kolkata to the Ashuganj river port. From Ashuganj, grain will be loaded on the trucks for transport to Agartala, which is about 50 km from the river port on the Bangladesh side.
Sources told FE that under the pilot project, around 10,000 tonnes of rice would be transported from Kolkata to Agartala through the river route. “After anlysing the feasibility of the project, we will try to send more grain through the Bangladesh route,” an FCI official said. There is also a proposal to develop the river port with Indian assistance.
The arrangement, sources said, is worked out under the Indo-Bangladesh protocol which envisages carrying grain or other items between the two countries. Recently, Dhaka had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) land access to transport machinery for the Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura using the Ashuganj port.
North-eastern states are not self-sufficient in grain like rice and wheat and depend on supplies from Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
During monsoon, transport is even tougher due to floods and landslides. Connectivity through rivers Ganga (on Indian side) and Padma (Bangladesh) is expected to help north-eastern regions get grain on time.
For transporting goods, essentials and heavy machinery from abroad and other parts of the country to the northeast, India has been demanding land, sea and rail access through Bangladesh, with which India shares a 4,000-km border.
During prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi two years ago, India and Bangladesh agreed to amend the bilateral Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade to declare Ashuganj in Bangladesh and Silghat in India as ports of call.
Last month, Bangladesh’s agriculture minister Begum Matia Chowdhury met her Indian counterpart Sharad Pawar in New Delhi and discussed the transport of grain.