> Development > International Border  
Debananda S Medak
Date of Publish: 2017-12-22

Dhaka beckons: Agartala-Akhaura Land Port rejuvenates East-West Bengal Corridor

 

After the rejuvenation of the east-west Bengal corridor via Agartala land port, Bongodorshan is no more an arduous journey

 

“Sei pare amar sonar Bangla. Amar sate aso abar, Dhakai tomay dakse, amar bhashai Baul geet aar Ilish maser juti niye thakben, tomay hrid majhare rakhibo chere debona”, said Baharul Sikdar, a Bangladeshi national from Brahmanbaria.

Sikdar, who was not acquainted with English tongue essentially meant, “Just the other side is our golden Bengal. Come along with me once, Dhaka is beckoning you, have the taste of Baul and Ilish in my home, we will keep you in our heart, never let you go off).”

Sikdar, an old-timer Bangladeshi merchant was returning home and was just about to cross the international boundary line at Agartala Land Port after concluding a smooth procedural scrutiny of his visa, when this writer had met him. He came to see his golden-age friends and loved ones fairly after long years of detachment.

Throughout his 74 years of living in Brahmanbaria, the happiest moment he realized was the inauguration of the Agartala-Akhaura land port, the first ever in northeast India. To his understanding, it will refashion the interaction of the Bengali natives beyond the political boundary who were divided and distributed arbitrarily by the colonial rulers. The only incentive that made Sikdar so happy was that, such grand initiative would reduce distance, time, haphazard norms and sweat to cross the border. Above all, it was a great compensation to his lost ancestral cultural legacy.

Like Sikdar, thousands have been realizing the significance of Agartala-Akhaura land port and accordingly considering this border station as a milestone to enhance trade and international passenger transit as part of regional connectivity. The Akhaura Integrated Check Post (ICP) was commissioned on November 17, 2013. The primary objective was to bring diverse range of professionals under one umbrella. Earlier, it was simply operated as a Land Customs Station (LCS). In due course, this station also functioned as an Integrated Development Complex. Although, the Custom officials still consider it as an LCS point, it is wholly replaced and become operational as Land Port from 2013 onwards.

This is the second Land Port in India after Attari in Punjab. According to report, the movement of people seeking to travel to Bangladesh has increased ever since its establishment. Dhaka is only 130 KMs away from this land port. Hence, it is significant from many perspectives. Presently, buses from Agartala ply to Kolkata via Dhaka. Although there is only one bus plying on this route in a week, ranges of public and private vehicles connecting to different destinations are available in Bangladesh just across the border. Moreover, the nearest railway station in Bangladesh is just five Kms away from the border.

Now, Bangladeshi nationals can visit Agartala for the day simply by showing their passports and return after buying necessary articles. They also catch flights from Agartala Airport to various destinations of India that help them to avoid international charges which otherwise would have incurred by travelling directly from Dhaka.

As many people have relatives on either side of the border, they are increasingly crossing this port to attend family functions, rituals and other occasions. Moreover, this port has become the major transit point for the Indians working in public or private sectors in Bangladesh, particularly in Dhaka.

Talking to this writer, D. Nandi, Manager, Land Port Authority of India (LPAI), Agartala highlighted, “The number of passengers are rapidly increasing. In 2014-15, the number of passengers moving through the land port was around 78,000. In 2015-16, it was around 90,000. In 2016-17, we expect that number to cross 100,000.”

The Indian government is proposing to introduce Multiple Entry Type Visa possessing which one can be allowed to cross the border multiple times within a fixed duration until it remains valid. Sizable volumes of students from Northeast India cross this post to study Medical sciences in Dhaka. For this student community, this particular visa can be more useful.

“We would like to see a number of developments with regard to our communication with our Bangladeshi counterparts. However, there is a complete lack of infrastructure in the Bangladesh side. Trade and movement of people from both sides should be matched for seamless transactions. Moreover, for a better co-ordination, committees should be instituted on either side comprising the respective officials. They should be allowed to cross the border, mostly without any formal restrictions, to meet their fellow counterparts on the other side to discuss issues of importance,” Nandi said.

Contrary to the encouraging scenario of the improved volume of international passengers, the degree of commercial activity is showing a sorry picture. In the previous years, boulder stone extracted from Meghalaya were exported to Bangladesh in large quantity. Further, the crushed volumes were imported to India. Soon after the commissioning of the broad gauge railway track in Tripura to run the Tripura Sundari Express, this traffic spontaneously ended. Exchange of other commodities is also limited only to the domestic markets of Agartala.

The Agartala land port now accommodates passenger terminal, warehouse, inspection shed, health, loose cargo area, cargo building, plant quarantine, parking facilities, driver rest area etc. Multiple organizations like; the Customs and the Bureau of Immigration (BoI) are also integrated in the same establishment.

Incorporation of the banking institution inside the port complex has eased the exchange of foreign currency which otherwise had remained as a recurring trouble encountered by the international passengers. Moreover, amalgamation of the department of forest, quarantine and health has strengthened the smooth functioning of the port promising a faster trade and passenger transit.

Sharing on the smooth functioning of the port, Nandi said, “Imperatively infrastructure development is quite visible. Rather than taking unilateral decisions, smooth and seamless discussions are undertaken among the officials, thus it has made various measures transparent and faster than earlier mode of operation.”

There are also proposals to develop land ports in other corners of northeast, which are lying for due approval from the Ministry of External Affairs. These proposed locations are Moreh (Manipur), Dawki (Meghalaya) and Sutarkandi (Assam). However, Moreh has already been operational as ICP while Dawki is undergoing construction.

Not only through Agartala land port, it is encouraging that the border points across northeast have witnessed increased volume of international passenger movements in each proceeding year. The phenomenon has grown rapidly in responds to the up gradation of respective LCSs into ICPs and accordingly the ICPs into land ports. Contrary to that, the facts that sadden us are the persistent falling of the trade statistics. If the volume of trade and passenger transit increases in equal statistics, it will serve the greater purpose of the extension and expansion of the border points. We do share the thrill Sikdar could comprehend. At the same time, we also yearn for expansion of economic activities through these points.

Debananda S Medak

All photographs used in this feature were taken by the author

( Debananda S. Medak is a Research Associate at the OKD Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati. He is also the recipient of the Him-Kai Excellence award in Journalism. He can be reached at +91-8812822851 or debanandatimes83@gmail.com)

"All materials including the interviews and photographs and field inputs used in this write-up have been collected as a part of the project Pivot to the East: Building Sustainable Economic Corridors in Northeast India undertaken by the Institute in collaboration with Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Japan."

 

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