Centre to resume trade with Bangladesh via rail route

Centre to resume

NEW DELHI: The Centre has decided to resume trade of essential items with Bangladesh via the rail route after the West Bengal government refused to allow goods vehicles through the India-Bangladesh land borders amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

ET has learnt that the first consignment of over 2,000 tonnes of onions is on its way to Bangladesh, which will help bring down onion prices in that country during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The consignment, from Maharashtra, will reach Bangladesh in about 56 hours, sources said, adding that India will send additional consignments also via rail. The means to trade with Bangladesh for food items will not only keep inflation down but also enable items to reach Bangladesh in better condition than via road, sources pointed out.

The bulk of India’s trade with Bangladesh is road based and goes through West Bengal. But sources said the Centre is keen to trade with Bangladesh in future via rail, which is a smooth and cost effective mean, and in which the state government has no role as there is no involvement of the local administration.

The West Bengal government had last month stopped the movement of goods to Bangladesh via the Petrapole land border, claiming “local emotive issues” and the fear of contagion among the people of the state.

This led union home secretary Ajay Bhalla to write to West Bengal chief secretary RajivaSinha, saying “unilateral action on the part of the government of West Bengal to stop cross-land border movement of essential goods would have larger implications for the Indian government with regard to its legally binding international commitments”. In case of Nepal and Bhutan, bilateral trade takes place  through various border crossings, but a good chunk goes through Jaigaon in West Bengal for Bhutan, and Panitanki in West Bengal for Nepal.

“Despite the challenges and concerns about public health, the governments of UP, Bihar, Assam and Tripura are working to ensure that India’s unavoidable obligations to its neighbours, especially landlocked countries, are fully met,” a source told ET on the condition of anonymity.

India has over 4,000 km of land border with Bangladesh, 1,751 km with Nepal, 1,643 km with Myanmar and 699 km with Bhutan.

Bangladesh-Bhutan-Nepal-India or the BBIN formation and re-invigoration of BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, a grouping of seven regional nations in South and Southeast Asia) has further enhanced possibilities of regional trade via the land route and coasting shipping.