The transshipment of Indian goods beginning today will open a new horizon of Indo-Bangla relations, said State Minister for Shipping, Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury.
Underlining Bangladesh's significance to India as a transit facility, the first trial container ship containing pulses and TMT steel bars today left Kolkata port for Agartala via Chattogram port in a development hailed as a "new chapter" in Bangladesh-India maritime ties.
"The first Indian ship carrying four containers is arriving at Chattogram Port Thursday. From there, the goods will be transported to Agartala through Akhaura," Khalid Mahmud said while talking at a webinar on Indo-Bangla relations, organised by the Centre for Bangladesh-India Relations (CBIR) last night.
"This is a trial run. It is going to open a new horizon," he said.
Indian Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya flagged off the container ship in a virtual ceremony under the bilateral agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of India's transit cargo through Bangladesh.
Mandaviya said the route will open the doors of new opportunities for both the countries as it will provide an alternative and shorter route to connect India's northeast region through Bangladesh.
"This is a historic move to utilise Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of India's transit cargo and will open a new chapter in India-Bangladesh maritime relations," he said.
Dhaka and Delhi signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in 2015, following years of persuasion from India.
Subsequently, the countries signed an agreement and a standard operating procedure (SoP) during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in October last year.
According to the SoP, goods that reach Chattogram and Mongla sea ports will be transported on four road, rail, and water routes to: Agartala (Tripura) via Akhaura; Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil; Sutarkandi (Assam) via Sheola, and Srimantpur (Tripura) via Bibirbazar.
It allows the landlocked Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura states to access open sea trade routes through the Chattogram and Mongla ports.
The consignment of the trial movement of the ship includes two TEUs carrying TMT steel bars destined for West Tripura district in India and two TEUs carrying pulses destined for Karimganj in Assam.
After reaching Chattogram, the consignment will move to Agartala on Bangladeshi trucks.
"It is also a win-win for both the economies. Job creation, investment in the logistical sector, enhanced business services and revenue generation are advantages that will accrue to Bangladesh," officials said as they pointed out that Bangladeshi vessels and trucks would be utilised to move the Indian cargo.
At yesterday's webinar, speakers said Indo-Bangla relations is historical and based on culture, tradition, language and it will continue to grow though there are some challenges.
They said there were times when anti-Indian forces were sheltered in Bangladesh, but the Sheikh Hasina government has totally eliminated that problem.
However, border killings and not implementing the Teesta water treaty still remain as some of the irritants, they said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) National Youth Alliance's National Secretary Saurav Sikder said it was basically the West Bengal state's problem which is ruled by the Trinamool Congress that Teesta deal has not been implemented.
"After 2021, it will be a matter of time to implement the Teesta water sharing deal," he said, indicating that BJP will be in power then.
Awami League MP Pankaj Devnath said border killings must be brought down to zero.
They all said now that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting all, India and Bangladesh should think of how they can help each other in the aftermath, especially as food crisis and Covid-19 vaccines and medicines will be critical aspects of cooperation.
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank, said, "The pandemic has brought a whole lot of new challenges. India and Bangladesh -- we need to work together to fight it."
CBIR National Coordinator (Bangladesh) Suvasish Samaddar also spoke at the discussion moderated by CBIR Director Shahidul Hasan Khokan.
India and Bangladesh have enhanced cooperation in shipping and inland water trade in the recent years.
Under the bilateral Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, in addition to the six existing ports of call, five more in each country have been added recently.
Dredging of inland waterway routes is also going on under an MoU signed by the two countries on development in selected stretches of Bangladesh waterways with India, bearing 80 percent of the project expenditure and the balance being borne by Bangladesh.
Cruise services have also commenced between the two countries for promoting tourism and people-to-people contacts.