By Sujit Chakraborty, Agartala, Aug 30 IANS | 3 months ago

In one more sign of warming cross-border ties, Bangladesh says it is keen to supply rice to food-deficient northeastern states and can allow all its ports, in "mutual interest", to ferry goods bound for the region, a Tripura minister has said, quoting the Bangladeshi prime minister.

"Madam Hasina has proposed to supply rice to Tripura and other northeastern states if required," Tripura Industries and Commerce minister Tapan Chakraborty told IANS, referring to the assurance of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The minister was a member of an Indian delegation led by Minister of State for External Affairs, General V.K. Singh (retd), that visited Bangladesh for a conclave earlier this week.

"After attending the one-day conclave on India-Bangladesh trade and improving connectivity between the two countries, the Indian delegation met the Bangladeshi prime minister. During the meeting, Madam Hasina proposed to supply rice to Tripura and other northeastern states to meet their scarcities."

"Madam Hasina categorically said that the Bangladesh government can allow all its ports including sea ports on mutual interest to transport goods from any part of India to the northeastern region via her country," Chakraborty added.

In a first, a 5,000 tonnes consignment, of a total of 10,000 tonnes, of rice carried in small ships from Kakinada port in Andhra Pradesh reached Ashuganj river port in (eastern) Bangladesh via Kolkata Aug 5. From Ashuganj, 40 km from Agartala, Bangladeshi trucks have been carrying the rice since Aug 7 to FCI warehouses in Nandannagar near here.

In 2012, Bangladesh had allowed India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj port for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.

The Indian government had spent several millions of rupees to develop the port and related infrastructure.

Carrying of food, essentials and heavy machinery for several northeastern states via Bangladesh from different parts of India is much easier as surface connectivity is a key factor for the mountainous region, which is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.

The only land corridor to the northeastern states from India is through Assam and West Bengal.

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

Tripura, Mizoram and a few other northeastern states have been pressing the Indian government to finalise a permanent multi-model transit route via Bangladesh to carry food, essentials and heavy machinery.

"We have proposed a direct bus service between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh. Discussions were also held about the development of infrastructure of the land customs stations along the India-Bangladesh border to further improve trade between Bangladesh and the northeastern states," Chakraborty said.

"The 70-km road between southern Tripura's border town Sabroom and Chittagong sea port has to be improved to carry men and material to and from India and Bangladesh," he added.

The minister said that preliminary work has been completed to build a bridge over the Feni river to connect with the Chittagong international port in southeast Bangladesh.

"Tripura would be a gateway for northeastern states if access to Chittagong port was availed," the minister added.

The Indian government has also undertaken a Rs.252- crore project to construct a 15-km track between Tripura's Agartala railway station and Akhaura railway junction in Bangladesh to open a new link between the two neighbours.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce and the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in association with the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, organised the conclave earlier this week.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran, ministers, officials and investors from Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura took part in the summit.

Bangladesh shares a 4,097-km border with the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in )

(Posted on 30-08-2014)

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