BANGLADESH-INDIA RIVER CONNECTIVITY BY THIS YEAR
Rejaul Karim Byron
Bangladesh may provide river transit to India on a limited scale this year after the two sides fix transit fees and charges.
A joint committee comprising officials of both countries would be formed soon to make recommendations for the fees and charges within two months, said shipping ministry officials.
Once those are settled, the facility might be given to India on a limited scale, they said.
“It will require large-scale dredging of river routes if India is to be provided with full-fledged river transit facility,” said one of the officials on condition of anonymity.
At a meeting in New Delhi in April, shipping ministry officials of the two countries agreed to make mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of waterways, roads and railways for bilateral trade and passage of goods between two places in one country through the territory of the other.
India would pay Bangladesh transit fees, while Nepal and Bhutan would pay fees to both Bangladesh and India, said the officials of Bangladesh shipping ministry.
At present, India pays Bangladesh Tk 10 crore annually for using the latter’s waterways.
Under the new arrangement, fees and charges would be set in accordance with the policy of the World Trade Organisation.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been drafted under the Extension of Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) signed during the recent Dhaka visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The SOP contains details of the transit routes, ports of call and other related issues.
Dhaka, however, will have to sign a separate deal with Delhi for using India’s river routes to move goods to Nepal and Bhutan.
Twelve ports, six each in Bangladesh and India, have been proposed as ports of call where ships would load or unload cargos and undergo repairs.
Those are Mongla, Khulna, Sirajganj, Narayanganj, Pangaon and Ashuganj in Bangladesh, and Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj, Pandu, Silghat and Farakka or Bandle in India.
Under the protocol, Kolkata-Guwahati/Pandu, Kolkata-Karimganj and Farakka-Kolkata routes have been proposed for river transit.
Shipping ministry officials said the transit routes would require around 52 lakh cubic metres of dredging for smooth vessel operation.
Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal told The Daily Star yesterday that they would conduct a study to determine in a month the method of dredging and the amount of money required for it. The two countries would dredge the river routes separately.
Shipping ministry officials said a Bangladesh-India Joint Technical Committee already conducted primary studies on various river routes and multi-modal corridors for identifying problems.
Dhaka would take up a project to find out the extent of dredging and the amount of money needed for it.
Once the two sides come up with details on the project’s financing, they would submit a joint proposal to the World Bank for funds.
Delhi has conveyed to Dhaka that it had talks with the WB, and the Washington-based lender was ready to finance.
The WB would provide one-third of the amount, and the two countries would bear two-thirds of the cost, said a shipping ministry official quoting Indian high-ups.
A planning ministry official said Dhaka would create a fund under which dredgers would be bought for Tk 2,000 crore.
Talking to this correspondent, SK Mahfuz Hamid, managing director of local shipping company Gulf Orient Seaways, said Bangladesh’s river routes are now capable of handling Indian transit cargos on a limited scale.
According to the PIWTT, Bangladeshi ships will be used for transit of 50 percent of Indian goods, while Indian ships will carry the rest.
Mahfuz said Bangladesh now has around 3,000 vessels that ply inland river routes. And 10 more ships would be commissioned by December.
At least 20 ships could be commissioned in the private sector a year if ship owners were given tax waiver and bank facilities, he added.
JUNE 11, 2015