THE high hope that Bangladesh authorities were made to hope of earning a huge amount of money from the transshipment facilities that they afforded India formally in 2016 appears to have faded away as the money and maintenance efforts put in have proved costlier than the return. After overdimensional Indian cargoes — 7,297 tonnes of power plant equipment from Kolkata to Tripura in 2010–11 and 19,537 tonnes of rice in 2014–15 from Kolkata to Agartala — had been let through Bangladesh, the transshipment facilities were set in motion in 2014, with the ferrying of 1,000 tonnes of iron and steel sheets. The 2011 transshipment was let through the Bangladesh territory in ‘a goodwill gesture’ and the 2015 one ‘on humanitarian grounds’, without any fee having been paid. Bangladesh from then on earned Tk 192,968 for the transshipment of 1,004 tonnes of Indian goods in the 2016 financial year, Tk 1,119,873 for 5,826 tonnes of goods in the 2017 financial year, Tk 466,339 for 2,270 tonnes of goods in the 2018 financial year and Tk 1,781,184 for 9,277 tonnes of goods in the 2019 financial year in transshipment fees at the rate of Tk 192.22 a tonne set in the 2016 financial year which the Bangladesh Tariff Commission in 2011 decided to be Tk 1,058.
In the first two months of the current financial year, no major vessel with Indian goods called at the Ashuganj river port for transshipment as the ferrying of goods through Siliguri is reported to have been profitable for India after a broad-gauge railway was extended to Agartala in January 2017. But procedural problems and poor port facilities have been given out as reasons for the decline in transshipment. Yet New Delhi is reported to be keeping the facilities amidst a minimal demand as India might need the facilities ‘in cases of emergency’. While Bangladesh has not had what it had been made to hope through blown-up propositions and overblown estimates, it has unnecessarily left open the option, which could be a serious national security threat, especially in cases of emergency. The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority chair, yet, seeks to hope that the demand for transshipment would go high among Indian traders after projects, including an inland container depot at Ashuganj, for an estimated Tk 12.93 billion and an Aushuganj-Akhaura road upgrade project for Tk 35.68 billion are completed. But Bangladesh invests all the money in aid of India, with a third of the money in the first instance and more than three-fifths of the money in the second instance coming from India in loans. While Bangladesh by way of the transshipment facilities given to India leaves a hole in its national security, it is India that benefits from the protocol in all the ways possible.
In a situation like this and, especially, when Bangladesh hardly gets anything from the transshipment facilities given to India while it is exposing its national security to probable threats, Dhaka should review the process for a better management of the protocol in Bangladesh’s national interest.