THE issue of transit/transhipment/corridor with regard to India, once very much at the centre of public debate, seems to have been almost deliberately removed from the public eye. While at one point the pros and cons of providing India with transit was being hotly-debated, the sudden opening up of Bangladeshi facilities to Indian transport, without any formal transit/transhipment agreement, was almost anti-climactic and, in some ways, an ‘on the sly’ move on the part of the Bangladeshi government. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that after about eight to nine months of virtual transit through the Bangladesh-India Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, the Bangladeshi businessmen are essentially ending up on the losing side. After all, from the very beginning, the government has shown more inclination to accommodate the interests of the neighbouring country without undertaking any serious evaluation of what such a step really entails for Bangladesh.
According to a report front-paged in New Age on Monday, the waiting time for trucks at the Akhaura Land Port — one of the routes used by Indian vehicles to enter Agartala in India — has nearly doubled or tripled since the Indian trucks started availing the services of the port. The port has narrow roads and little dumping ground area and the government has not taken any steps to improve the infrastructure, though, at the Indian end, construction work to develop the infrastructure is in full swing, contributing more to the delay in waiting time for the trucks. But what is more worrying is that by providing facilities for Indian vehicles to reach their north-eastern states in quick time, we may have very well jeopardised our fairly significant export market to the Indian northeast. According to Bangladeshi exporters, we earn around Tk 300 crore from exports through the single land port of Akhaura.
This latest piece of news once again brings us back to the original debate on transit. Of course, in a globalised world, all nations should thrive for and pursue greater connectivity; however, how exactly do we stand to benefit by turning ourselves — at the cost to our frail and inadequate infrastructure — into a quick route for Indian vehicles to go from one Indian state to another? At the beginning, the government was keen on selling the idea of transit to the populace by highlighting financial gains from the move. Now that a transit agreement is reportedly in its final stages, one has every right to ask what exactly the financial benefit is. After all, in the recently proposed budget for the fiscal 2012-13 there wasn’t any mention of any possible future revenue earnings from providing transit.
This eager display to provide India with transit, at a time when a number of bilateral issues remain unresolved, alongside no visible benefit, and certain woes, for Bangladesh, puts the Bangladeshi government in very poor light. The government must come out of their low-key attitude towards the transit issue and plain and simply explain to people what it is that we stand to gain by providing India with transit and how the obvious losses to us from such a step are going to be offset or remedied. If they have no explanations, then they should simply stop compromising our national interest for the benefit of our ‘friendly’ neighbours.
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