Goods from neighbouring Bangladesh move freely in and out of State; trade and security are going hand in hand

The sight of Bangladeshi trucks laden with cement, stones, plastic and other items entering Tripura through the Akhaura border near here presents a picture of contrast in the backdrop of border fencing. For, it reflects on how India wants to restrict illegal crossings from the neighbouring country, but desires healthy trade with it.

In fact, trade and security are going hand in hand in the State. “Trucks bring into India pebbles and cement, while carrying out items like sugar and onions. An interesting aspect is that limestone is transported from Meghalaya to Bangladesh and the cement manufactured there with it is now more popular and cheaper in Tripura,” said a Tripura Tourism official.

Pravin Agarwal, Director (Industries and Commerce) in the government of Tripura, insists that the business environment in the State had been improving due to fencing. “Till 4-5 years ago, there used to be instances of businessmen being abducted and taken across the border. But that has changed as the border fencing now covers nearly 740 km of the 865 km border that Tripura shares with Bangladesh.”

Business parks

In fact, Mr. Agarwal said Tripura was now setting up specialised business parks around the theme of “bamboo” and “rubber” in areas not very far from the Bangladesh border. “The problems of illegal entry are at an all-time low. Those into business can easily cross over from the designated borders and the atmosphere has generally become conducive for trade and commerce.”

Concurring with this, Secretary (Tourism and Urban Development) in the government of Tripura Ashutosh Jindal said the State was also pushing for a road link to the Chittagong port in Bangladesh, which would provide direct access to the Bay of Bengal.

Interacting with the media during a familiarisation tour organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Development of the North Eastern Region, Mr. Jindal said: “There is a plan to construct a bridge over the Feni river in southern Tripura for providing connectivity from Sabroom — about 135 km from Agartala — in India to Ramgarh in Bangladesh.” The link up to Chittagong, which is about 75 km from Sabroom, would help heavy machinery, such as turbines for power plants, and goods reach north-east India with greater ease. The Indian Railway Construction Company is learnt to have finalised the alignment of the bridge in consultation with officials in Dhaka.

In January 2010, during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India, it was agreed that Dhaka would allow its Mongla and Chittagong sea ports for transportation of goods via rail and road.

The rail head in India has thus far reached Bishalgarh in Sipahijala district of Tripura, about 16 km south of Agartala.

Alignment finalised

On the Bangladesh side, there is a railway line that runs very close to the India border and goes all the way down south. India has proposed a 13-km link between Agartala and Akhaura and the Indian Railway Construction Company has finalised the alignment for it in consultation with officials in Dhaka. In the proposed link, about 5.4 km would fall within India.

Bus service

With a flight from Agartala to Kolkata still costing around five times the amount it costs to cover the distance by bus via Dhaka, the Tripura government is also working on improving the bus service through Bangladesh to cut down on travel time. “At the moment, a passenger has to change the bus at Dhaka and the total travel time is around 20 hours. It can be reduced by at least four to five hours through necessary initiatives,” said an official.

Incidentally, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, during a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee earlier this month, also demanded that the connectivity between India and Bangladesh be improved.