To augment trade relations between India and Bangladesh

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram laid the foundation stone for a Rs. 172-crore integrated check-post (ICP) at the India-Bangladesh international border here on Saturday in an effort to boost bilateral ties, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scheduled visit to Bangladesh on September 6.

“In the last many years, both the countries have striven to strengthen relations…several new agreements will be signed between the two countries during the Prime Minister's historic visit to Bangladesh. I am happy to learn that five Chief Ministers of Indian States, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, will accompany him,” Mr. Chidambaram said in the presence of Bangladesh's Home Minister Shahara Khatun and Ms. Banerjee.

Mr. Chidambaram expressed the hope that both the Prime Minister's visit and the setting up of the ICP would augment trade relations and tourism and result in rapid multiplication of the bilateral trade volume.

Appreciating India's decision to set up the ICP, Ms. Khatun said: “Whenever we think of India, we recall Indira Gandhi's contribution. The way the Indira government helped us in the 1972 liberation struggle and the people of West Bengal cooperated, we will remember you forever.”

The ICP project, which is part of the government of India's initiative for better border management to put in place systems which address both security concerns, as well as facilitate cross-border trade and commerce, is expected to be completed in 17 months.

An ICP is envisaged to discharge sovereign functions of security checking, immigration, customs and quarantine apart from providing facilities for smooth cross-border movement of persons, goods and transport.

The ICP here will be one of the 13 similar ICPs to be set up on the borders between India and Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Myanmar as part of a plan with an initial outlay of Rs. 635 crore during the 11th Five Year Plan. Out of the 13 ICPs, seven will be set up on the India-Bangladesh border.

“The ICPs are important for both passenger and goods traffic. We want more goods to come from Bangladesh. Hilsa fish alone is not enough and we want more Indian goods to reach Bangladesh. We also want thousands of people to visit the respective countries with visas.

“All this requires facilities for passengers, trucks, drivers, containers and cargo. The current facilities are inadequate for a traffic worth Rs. 10,000 crore. In the years ahead, Rs. 10,000 crore worth traffic will multiply to Rs. 20,000 crore, Rs. 50,000 crore, and Rs. 100,000 crore. Therefore, we need to expand the facilities and that is precisely what we are doing,” Mr. Chidambaram said.

Ms. Banerjee said that while the ICP would improve the turnaround time of vehicles at the border, similar steps should also be taken to cut down the time taken for security checks and immigration for passengers travelling on the India-Bangladesh Maitreyi Express.