Northeast India turns to Myanmar, Bangladesh for rice

 Transport bottlenecks have forced India`s northeastern states to procure much needed rice from neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Agartala: Transport bottlenecks have forced India`s northeastern states to procure much needed rice from neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The Indian government has floated bids to import rice from Myanmar for Manipur and Mizoram. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) is ferrying rice from other parts of India via Bangladesh for Tripura.

The poor transport connectivity in some northeastern states worsened after train services from the rest of India were halted in southern Assam Oct 1, snapping rail connection to Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram.

This has been done so that rail tracks can be converted from metre to broad gauge.

This 18-month two-phase track conversion work undertaken by the Northeast Frontier Railways is scheduled to be completed by March 2016.

Mizoram Food and Civil Supplies and Transport Minister John Rotluangliana told IANS: "We have asked the central government to import rice from Myanmar. The Metals and Minerals Trading Corp (MMTC) has floated tenders for this purpose.

"We are expecting rice from Myanmar very soon," Rotluangliana added.

He said he recently visited Chin hills in Myanmar adjoining eastern Mizoram to gather knowledge regarding transportation of rice from there.

Mizoram shares an unfenced border of 404 km with Myanmar.

According to the minister, Mizoram, with a population of 1.1 million, requires about 52,000 quintals of rice per month for distribution through the Public Distribution System (PDS).

The MMTC last month floated global tenders to import about 100,000 tonnes of rice from Myanmar for Manipur and Mizoram.

Tripura Food, Civil Supplies and Finance Minister Bhanulal Saha told IANS: "Rice is being ferried from other parts of India via Bangladesh to avoid the long and mountainous surface road up to Tripura via Assam and Meghalaya.

"Also, the stoppage of train services has created serious problems for carrying rice through the traditional system and route."

Saha also said that 5,000 tonnes of rice transported in three small ships from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh reached the Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh Oct 12.

"From Ashuganj, Bangladeshi trucks will carry the rice to FCI warehouses in Nandannagar (near Agartala) within a day or two," the minister told IANS.

In August, 5,000 tonnes of rice reached Tripura through the same route.

Ashuganj port over the Meghna river in eastern Bangladesh is located around 40 km from Agartala.

The minister said the FCI had recently floated tenders to carry another 10,000 tonnes of rice via Bangladesh.

The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on Punjab, Haryana and other states for foodgrains and essential commodities sold through PDS.

The railways transport more than 70 percent of foodgrain to northeastern states from the rest of the country.

Transportation via Bangladesh is easier as road connectivity is a big factor for the landlocked northeastern states surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China.

There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern region through Assam and West Bengal.

But this landslide-prone route passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles, specially loaded trucks, very difficult.

The distance from Kolkata to Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km and from New Delhi 2,637 km . The distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is only 350 km.

The railway line is broad gauge from Assam`s main city Guwahati up to Lumding in southern Assam.

From Lumding it is metre gauge -- in southern Assam and till Agartala, western Manipur and northern Mizoram.

The 437-km Lumding-Agartala metre gauge rail line, covering southern Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur, will be converted into broad gauge in two phases.

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