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River route, ports not ready for transit: shipping secy

Staff Correspondent

Inland water transit protocol with India extended by another year  

Shipping secretary Abdul Mannan Howlader said on Monday that regular transit of Indian goods through Bangladesh would begin after clearance from the ministries of communications and railway since the roads and the railway were yet to be ready for it.
He, however, claimed that the country’s river route and inland ports were ready to allow Indian ships for transiting goods under the Bangladesh-India Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, which was renewed for another year with effect from April 1, 2012.
Last year, under the protocol India used Bangladesh’s Ashuganj river port and Akhaura land port for the transhipment of its goods between its two regions, West Bengal to Tripura, in India’s northeast, through Bangladesh without paying any fees on ‘trial basis,’ said officials.
‘Our river route is now ready, but the roads and the railway were yet to be prepared for allowing the transit of Indian goods through the land port,’ the secretary told reporters after the Indian High commissioner in Dhaka Pankaj  Sharan had a meeting with shipping minister Shajahan Khan at the Bangladesh Secretariat. 
The secretary, who was present, later told reporters that it was a courtesy call by India’s new high commissioner.
He said that they discussed the transit issue, among other things.
‘The protocol which expired on March 31 has been extended by another year through exchange of letters although Indian side proposed for an extension of three years. On Sunday, we sent our letter to our counterpart,’ he said replying to reporters.
The secretary said high-level discussions were going on between the two countries for a long-term agreement India wants to avail the transit facility.
India has been using Bangladesh for the trial
transit of its goods from West Bengal to Tripura since September 29 although the land port at Akhaura or the river port at Ashuganj were not connected with proper roads to facilitate the movement of heavy vehicles carrying the Indian goods.
On October 19, Bangladesh government began to provide regular transit in a hurry and without any formal announcement even before the trial transit through Bangladesh’s Ashuganj river port and Akhaura land port to Agartala in the Indian province of Tripura could begin.
In the face of sharp criticism for allowing regular transit of Indian goods before the trial transit could be completed, the government on October 26 decided not to allow India to avail ‘regular transit’ of its goods until the modalities were finalized following completion of the trial transit.  
The shipping secretary said that at that time ‘trial transit was mistakenly shown as regular transit’.
Asked whether there was any Indian ship at Ashuganj for transiting goods through Akhaura, the secretary said that so far the government allowed three Indian ships to unload at Ashuganj River Port for carrying the shipments to Agartala on trial basis.

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