Agartala: After Myanmar, India has kicked off the process to open new waterways with Bangladesh, a move that would facilitate the movement of people, goods and machinery between them and hugely help land-locked northeastern India.
According to union Minister for DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) Jitendra Singh, India is prioritising multi-modal connectivity in the northeastern region, including water connectivity, and already 16 waterway projects, mostly involving Bangladesh, have been approved for this region.
"To expedite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Act East Policy, multi-modal connectivity in the northeastern region, mostly involving Bangladesh, has been undertaken on a priority basis to increase bilateral trade and to increase the movement of people," Singh told IANS in an interview.
"The shipping ministry, in association with the Ministry of External Affairs, is looking into this. Assam, Tripura and other northeastern states would be benefited to a large extent under these ambitious projects."
India is now implementing the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit-Transport Project through Sittwe port in Myanmar to resolve the connectivity problem in the mountainous northeast region.
The union cabinet recently revised the cost of the project from Rs.535 crore to Rs. 2,904 crore. The funds will be given as grant to Myanmar. The much-expected project will provide an alternative access route to the northeast and boost the region's economy.
The idea is to have a 225-km waterway from Sittwe Port to Paletwa, both in Myanmar, along the Kaladan river, near Mizoram. A 62-km road will connect Paletwa to the Indian border village of Zochawchhuah in eastern Mizoram, one of eight northeastern states.
An official of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) said that of the 16 waterway projects, a significant portion of works of three projects in Assam, Mizoram and Manipur has already been completed at a cost of Rs.15 crore.
Construction of 17-metre-long floating terminals at 20 places on the Brahmaputra river has been completed while the construction of 17-metre-long floating terminal pontoons at 15 places has been initiated by the Assam government. The project is scheduled to be completed by December 2016, the minister added.
India and Bangladesh have a 2,979 km land border and 1,116 km of riverine boundary. They also share 54 common rivers, including the Brahmaputra.
Tripura Transport secretary Samarjit Bhowmik said: "The state government has submitted proposals to develop waterways between Tripura's Gomati and Howrah and Bangladeshi rivers. The shipping ministry has recently sanctioned Rs.12 crore and asked the state government to submit detailed project reports (DPRs) to develop waterways between (Tripura's) Gomti and (Bangladesh's) Meghna rivers."
"The transport department has asked the state's water resource department to prepare the DPR. After developing the Gomati-Meghna waterway, the shipping ministry has assured us it would consider a Howrah-Titas-Meghna waterway," Bhowmik told IANS.
He said that the state owned RITES (Rail India Technical and Economic Services) had earlier conducted a preliminary feasibility study to create new inland water transport ways between the Gomati and the Howrah in Tripura with the Meghna and the Titas in Bangladesh.
Four inland water routes between India and Bangladesh currently operational: Kolkata-Pandu (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Kolkata-Karimganj (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Rajshahi (in Bangladesh)-Dhulian (in southern Assam) and Karimganj-Pandu-Karimganj via Bangladesh.
These waterways have been operational since 1972 and are being renewed from time to time under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between the two countries.
There are also four ports of call in each country through which inter-country trade through inland waterways can take place. These are : Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla and Sirajganj in Bangladesh and Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj and Pandu in India.
India's West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura share the 4,096-km border with Bangladesh.
Tripura and other northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China on three sides and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal by Siliguri or the Chicken's Neck corridor. The lengthy route from Assam passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.
The distance between Kolkata and Agartala is about 1,650 km if one skirts Bangladesh. But the distance falls to 515 km if transportation is through Bangladesh.
India has for long pressed for using Bangladeshi waterways and ports, especially for easy transport of Indian goods from Kolkata and other mainland cities to northeastern states through that country.
To save time, cost and to avoid transportation hitches through the mountainous northeastern states, the government-owned Food Corporation of India had ferried over 35,000 tonnes of rice from different parts of India to Tripura via Bangladeshi waterways and surface roads.
Earlier in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes 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 Ashuganj port and related infrastructure.
"Prior to partition in 1947, Tripura was seamlessly connected to India through Bangladesh by road, rail and waterways which need to be restored. There is an urgent need for transit and transshipment facility through Bangladesh," Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar earlier urged Prime Minister Nardenra Modi in a written memorandum.