Transporting food grains for northeast India via Bangladesh begins

Agartala, June 9 (IANS) Transporting food grains for the mountainous northeastern states of India via Bangladesh has begun, and the first consignment is expected to reach Tripura within 10 to 15 days, officials said Sunday.

"A barge carrying the first consignment of 3,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura left Haldia port (in West Bengal) Thursday for Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh. From Ashuganj port, the food grains would be ferried to Tripura by road," a senior official of the Tripura food department told IANS.

He said: "The first consignment is likely to reach Tripura within 10 to 15 days. In the next few months 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura would be transported by this route."

Ashuganj river port in eastern Bangladesh under Brahmanbaria district is 35 km from Tripura capital Agartala.

"Initially, the Bangladesh government has agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura through its territory," Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha had earlier told IANS.

"Due to shortage of rail wagons, inadequate storage facilities, transportation hiccups and various other bottlenecks, the northeastern states have been suffering from poor supply of food grains for most part of the year, especially during the monsoon," the minister pointed out.

After getting the green signal from Dhaka, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) had initiated the process to transport food grains and essentials using the Bangladeshi river port and the roadways connected to the northeastern states.

"The FCI had earlier floated tenders to select the Bangladeshi transporters. In the first consignment, 10,000 tonnes of rice, wheat and sugar would be ferried to Tripura from West Bengal's Haldia port via the Ashuganj port. After Tripura, foodgrains would be ferried through Bangladesh for other northeastern states, including Mizoram, Manipur and southern Assam to save time and cost," an FCI official said.

Surface connectivity is a key factor as the hilly region is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal.

During the monsoon season (June to September), road transport becomes very difficult in the mountainous region due to floods and landslides. For ferrying essentials, goods and heavy machinery from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been asking Bangladesh land, sea and rail access to the northeast.

Agartala via Guwahati, for instance, is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi. The distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

Earlier, Dhaka had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to transport over dimensional cargos (ODCs) for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura using the Ashuganj port.

The FCI would carry the food grains in association with Inland Water Transport Authority (IWTA).

Inland Waterways Authority of India chairman Viswapati Trivedi, while addressing a seminar in Kokata Saturday, said: "India is looking at carrying 30,000 tonnes of foodgrains through the Bangladeshi route annually, if all goes well. That will hugely cut down the cost and time of carrying food grains for the Public Distribution System in the northeastern states."

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