New Delhi, Jul 28 : India has begun using a new trade route via a Bangladeshi port as well as land terrain to ship foodgrains to the Northeast India, as the NDA government steps up ties with the neighbour on the back of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent successful visit.
In a trial run, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), the country’s main grain agency, has successfully shipped 10,000 tonnes of rice to Tripura from its Vishakhapatnam silo via the Ashuganj port in the neighbouring country under the “Indo-Bangladesh protocol route”.
The new sea route reduces distance between some south Indian states and the Northeast by about 900 km, potentially cutting down transporters’ operating costs and opening up possibilities of greater commercial traffic.
Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan told Hindustan Times that after the trial run, the FCI would now scale up rice quantities transported using this route to the Northeast to 35,000 tonnes. “Since North-East is a rice-consuming region, this new route will help us reach rice from major southern states faster and more economically. Moreover, this route holds a lot of potential for commerce.”
With the India-friendly Awami League Party’s Sheikh Hasina in power in Dhaka, India and Bangladesh have enjoyed closer ties, although trickier issues, such as the Teesta water sharing pact, are stuck.
The route using the Ashuganj port holds strategic importance to India in reaching all kinds of equipment to the Northeast - including heavy equipment needed to construct border infrastructure. The Northeast, where several militant groups are active, is linked to the rest of India by a single highway running through a corridor known as the “Chicken’s Neck”.
For the food ministry, the new route has come in handy, as railways are about to shut down a major rail route used by the FCI in Assam for conversion to broad gauge. This would have sharply increased time and costs for the food agency.
Under the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route, inland vessels of one country can transit through the specified routes of the other country.