No more transit to India: Govt decides
Anwarul Karim, Diplomatic Correspondent
DHAKA: In a major development, Bangladesh government decided to call a halt to Indian cargo vessels entering country`s ports under "transit" or "transshipment" arrangement until further notice.
Shajahan Khan, Minister for Shipping, confirmed the government’s latest position—apparently in the wake of some complications.
“No more Indian vessels with goods for transit will come over to Bangladesh until next decision,” Khan told banglanews Friday.
The minister categorically said no Indian cargoes would be allowed under “regular transit” until the ongoing trial transit through the Ashuganj river port and Akhaura land port in Bangladesh to Agartala in the Indian state of Tripura is completed and modalities are finalized.
“No decision on giving transit to India has been taken--what happened so far were merely experimental,” he said, explaining the reasons for the halt.
After a readied Teesta water-sharing deal between Bangladesh and India fizzled out during Indian premier Manmohan Singh’s recent Dhaka visit, government authorities here had said: ‘No Tessta treaty, no transit’.
However, transshipment of Indian cargoes began a few days thereafter.
On this score, the shipping minister said, “On February 18, India and Bangladesh signed an agreement providing that 3 Indian vessels would come into Bangladesh carrying goods to Agartala.”
He said the capacity of the ports would have to be enhanced before the regular transit begins.
An inter-ministerial meeting was held at the secretariat in Dhaka Thursday in this regard. Officials of the ministries of commerce, communications and foreign affairs, the National Board of Revenue and the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, among others, attended the meeting that lasted about three hours. Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping was in the chair.
On October 19, the Bangladesh authorities allowed India to transit goods without any formal announcement. Even before that, a trial transshipment, which began on September 29 under the Bangladesh-India Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, was allowed.
The shipping minister said that a core committee formed for dealing with the transit matter has submitted a proposal on fare or fees for regular transit.
A senior official of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who attended the meeting, said the inter-ministerial meeting identified some problems related to infrastructure and other logistics after preliminary evaluation of the transit/transshipment of Indian goods through Bangladesh.
Wishing anonymity, he said that officials from different departments mentioned the problems they are facing because of the transit/ transshipment of goods in the existing situation.
“Our roads and ports are not ready for the movement of heavy-duty vehicles from India,” the official told banglanews.
India started using Bangladesh for the trial transit of its cargoes from West Bengal to Tripura on September 29.
On the first day of the regular transit on October 19, nine Bangladeshi trucks, each carrying 17.5 tonnes of iron bars, left the Ashuganj river port for Agartala.
Indian goods carried by ships were unloaded at the Ashuganj river port before being reloaded onto trucks headed for the land port on the Akhaura border for the ultimate destination of Agartala in Tripura.
Land customs officials at Akhaura said that they had received a government order on October 17 to treat the Indian consignments as goods for “transit and transshipment”. But the order did not mention whether any fee has to be charged, they added.
About 200 tonnes of steel sheets carried to the port were still waiting to be carried to Agartala on a trial basis.
Previous consignments of more than 900 tonnes of steel sheets crossed over to Agartala, according to officials.
A consignment of 621 tonnes of iron bars first reached the Ashuganj river port from Kolkata on board Bangladeshi ship the MV Nilkantha under ‘regular transit.’
Bangladeshi shipping company Indo-Bangla Shipping Lines carried in the Indian goods from Kolkata.
Meanwhile, the core committee has proposed 17 roads, rail and waterway routes for regular transit. They have set a fee for all those routes. Government yet to decide the proposal, the shipping minister told banglanews.
The official of shipping ministry said the government committee has recommended transit fees ranging from $252 to $54,368 for India, Nepal and Bhutan for each consignment of cargo using road, river and train routes of Bangladesh.
The fees have been calculated on the basis of weight of the cargo, the types of routes to be used and their distance.
The lowest rate is applicable for using waterways while the highest for roads.
The fees will vary from 2 cents to 11 cents per tonne and per km, depending on which route is being used. In addition to the transit fees, the users must pay fuel tax and other surcharges for carrying transit goods.
BDST 2110 HRS, OCT 28, 2011