The National Board of Revenue has permitted the movement of container trains on the Benapole-Petrapole route to facilitate the transport of essential goods between Bangladesh and India amid disruption of import and export activities against the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the NBR, the container trains should be side-door ones and the continuation of the service will be reviewed once the coronavirus situation becomes normal.
Now, all types of goods can be imported through the railway as the Benapole Customs House got the permission to handle rail cargoes, officials said.
Previously, only freight trains carrying bulk cargoes such as stone, stone chips, rice and paddy could be imported through different railway routes including Benapole-Petrapole and Darshana-Gede, they said.
Recently, onions, fly ash, chilli, ginger and turmeric have also been imported through rail wagons.
In 2018, a container train arrived in Bangladesh through Gede-Darshana on a pilot basis but the movement did not start on a regular basis.
Customs, international trade and agreement wing of the revenue board on Thursday gave the permission to the Benapple Customs House to handle rail containers on some conditions including conducting 100 per cent physical inspection of imported goods.
The facilities related to unloading, preservation and physical inspection of goods at port areas should be developed with the help of Bangladesh Land Port Authority and Bangladesh Railway before arrival of import consignments, the NBR said in a letter to BCH commissioner Belal Hossain Chowdhury.
The copy of the letter was also sent to the commerce ministry and the BLPA.
The BCH will also have to prepare standard operation procedures for customs assessment of consignments.
The customs house will have to send import and export data on a regular basis to the NBR so that it based on the progress can make decision on whether the service would continue or not after the pandemic.
Earlier on May, Indian High Commission in Dhaka requested the authorities of Bangladesh to allow movement of cargo trains through the route to facilitate export of essential goods to Bangladesh amid the pandemic.
A technical committee headed by an additional secretary of the commerce ministry also recommended the introduction of side-door container train on the route.
Benapole customs commissioner on May 14 in a letter requested the NBR to take the necessary measures for the introduction of rail cargoes on the route, saying that cargo train service on the route would reduce the cost of goods transport by two-thirds compared with the cost incurred through transport by road.
Belal also said that the other stakeholders, including importers, exporters, the Customs and Clearing Agents Association and the Benapole Land Port Authority, had also given their nods to the initiative.
The customs house and the other stakeholders have the logistics and manpower to handle goods of the rail cargoes.
Currently, more than 85 per cent of all border trade is carried out through Benapole.
Benapole customs officials said that the introduction of rail cargo on the route would solve a number of problems, including extortion from trucks and repeated suspension of trade for various reasons.
There is enough space under the jurisdiction of the land port authority to handle at least 12,000 TEUs (twenty feet equivalent unit) containers.
The BCH on May 19 completed the customs assessment and issued the release order and cleared a consignment of chilli, turmeric and ginger in record 19 minutes, officials said.
Of which, the customs assessment of the goods imported through 42 rail wagons was completed in just 10 minutes, they said.
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