BANGLADESH authorities have decided not to levy transit charge and customs duty on India when it transships cargoes to its north-east through Bangladesh using the Chattogram and the Mongla sea port although it will levy administrative fees, which is yet to be decided, in addition to road charges. India is reported to begin the trial transshipment in January. The decision was made in an inter-governmental committee meeting in Dhaka on Thursday. India has pushed for the arrangement since 2015 when the memorandum of understanding was signed on June 6, with the agreement having been signed later on October 25, 2019. The standard operating procedure on the use of the sea ports was signed during the visit of the Bangladesh prime minister to New Delhi in October 3–6, 2019. But the decision at hand resembles the one by way of which Bangladesh formally afforded India transshipment through waterways in June 2016. After Indian cargoes — 7,297 tonnes of power plant equipment from Kolkata to Tripura in 2010–11 ‘in a goodwill gesture’ and 19,537 tonnes of rice in 2014–15 from Kolkata to Agartala ‘on humanitarian grounds’ — had been let through Bangladesh without any fee, the transshipment facilities were set in motion in 2014, for a fee of Tk 192.22 a tonne, which the Bangladesh Tariff Commission in 2011 decided to be Tk 1,058.
But the money and maintenance efforts put together have proved costlier than the return. Bangladesh has earned only Tk 3.46 million in 2017–2019 financial years from the transshipment while it spends Tk 12.93 billion, with a third coming from India in loans, and Tk 35.68 billion, with three-fifths coming from India in loans, on relevant infrastructure projects. While Dhaka by way of the transshipment facilities through waterways given to New Delhi leaves a hole in Bangladesh’s national security, it is India that benefits from the protocol in all the ways possible. It is now the transshipment using Bangladesh sea ports that is set to afford India further advantages. While the situation so remains, Bangladesh’s road transport and bridges minister, also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League, is reported to have said on Wednesday that Bangladesh authorities do not want to embarrass India by asking it again about the national register of citizens, having been effected in Assam and being talked about in West Bengal, which is reported to have added to the intrusion of Indians through the Jashore and Jhenaidah frontiers into Bangladesh early last week of November. Dhaka has reposed its trust in what New Delhi says — the national register of citizens is ‘an internal affair’ of India, but more than 250 people are reported to have entered Bangladesh in the week. An unguarded fallout of the national register of citizens in West Bengal could worsen the situation for Bangladesh given the geopolitical reality of the subcontinent.
While Bangladesh authorities must, in such a situation, take up the issue of the national register of citizens fallout with New Delhi, shaking off any capitualistic attitude, boldly enough to head off any trouble, they must also rethink the transshipment facilities, especially without fees of all types, that they have planned to afford India as both the issues involve national security and interest.
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