A View from Bangladesh: Crossing the Line

Some Bangladeshi analysts are criticizing Dhaka’s decision to let India transship essential goods to Indian state of Tripura, including food grains, via Bangladesh without duties under the river protocol between the two countries, but is getting nothing in return.

Posted on 09/1/14
By Abdullah Zobair | Via Dhaka Tribune
Agartala Akhaura border check post between Bangladesh and India. (Photo by sarit, Creative Commons License)
Agartala Akhaura border check post between Bangladesh and India. (Photo by sarit, Creative Commons License)

The statehood of Bangladesh is at stake as the incumbent government has allowed India to transship goods to its northeastern states through the lands of Bangladesh without taking people’s mandate to give transshipment facilities to the neighboring country.

 

The transshipment of goods through the territory of Bangladesh would cut costs on India’s end, but contrarily would suspend Bangladesh’s exports to Tripura permanently, losing huge foreign currency in the process.

 

Local exporters are in fear of losing their businesses and we fear of losing our sovereignty. We see how the government has been doing everything to help India in abandoning the interests of Bangladesh after assuming power in 2009.

 

The pro-Indian government in Bangladesh is letting India transship essential goods, including food grains, via Bangladesh’s Tripura, without duties under the river protocol between the two countries, but is getting nothing in return.

 

Quoting local exporters, a national English daily reported that businessmen in the Akhaura land port would have nothing to export to Tripura if India was allowed to transship on a permanent basis, and consequently the country would be deprived of sizable foreign exchange. Bangladesh exports over 40 items, including plastic goods, cement, stone, and fish through Akhaura, but hardly imports any Indian products through Agartala on the other side of the border.

 

The daily reported that India is, for the first time, transporting rice from its southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh to its northeastern state of Tripura through Bangladesh on a “pilot initiative,” which is also affecting export of local goods there as the Indian cargos were getting priority on the narrow passage to the border at Akhaura. India reportedly plans to ship 35,000 tons of food grains annually to its northeastern states through Bangladesh, after the successful completion of the ongoing trial transshipment begun in early August.

 

Akhaura land port customs officer Md Lutfur Rahman said India had already transshipped around 4,000 tons of rice through 200 vehicles since August 7. Md Tajul Islam, general secretary of the Exporters and Importers’ Association at Akhaura, said there was a huge demand for Bangladeshi products in the seven northeastern states of India, and if India can ferry goods via Bangladesh, we will lose our exports there.

 

In the first consignment, five ships loaded with 5,000 tons of rice reached the Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh from Kolkata on August 5 for delivery in Agartala. Dhaka is kind enough that it decided to waive the duty on the transshipment of 10,000 tons of rice during the trial phase on “humanitarian grounds.” A truck travels more than 1,650km to carry goods from Kolkata to Agartala through Guwahati – a distance that can be reduced to 350km when the Bangladeshi route is used, according to news reports.

 

In 2012, Bangladesh allowed India to ferry heavy machinery through Ashuganj port for the 726MW Palatana mega power project in Tripura without charging any duty. India has long been demanding the use of Bangladesh’s land and water to carry goods from the mainland to its seven landlocked northern states, but not any government, except the Awami League’s in its earlier term, had agreed to allow India to use Bangladesh’s lands and waterways, arguing that it would hamper the existing trade relations between the countries.

 

Bangladesh has not reached any consensus to give the transit or transshipment facilities to India, no agreement has been signed between the countries in this regard. No discussions have been held in parliament and the people have been divided over the issue for a while now. The crack widened further when the long-hyped Teesta Water Sharing Agreement was cast aside during former Indian premier Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit in 2011.

 

After fulfilling all of India’s demands, Sheikh Hasina on Saturday requested India for signing the long-pending Teesta water sharing deal, facilitating transit with Nepal and Bhutan through India. The foremost duty of a government in a sovereign state is to protect the national interest and the interests of its people. Is the incumbent government protecting our interests?

 

The present Bangladeshi government is not like its previous term, as it assumed power in a one-sided, so-called election where 153 lawmakers out of 300 were elected unopposed, and the rest were elected without any contest and participatory elections. Surely, the government does not truly represent the citizens of Bangladesh and thus it has no right to allow its neighboring country to use the lands and rivers of a sovereign country, demolishing its own interest. If it happens, the government will be treated as a traitor and the role of the AL will be considered anti-liberation, despite their propagating of pro-liberation sentiments.

 

This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune, a leading daily of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original.

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