New waterways to ease trade from North East Region
Indian government, in the last 4 years and under the leadership of our Prime Minister, has made its relations with East Asian neighbours a foreign policy. To expedite the PM’s Act East Policy, multi-modal connectivity has been approved in the north-eastern region, mostly involving Bangladesh, and work on this is being undertaken on a priority basis to increase bilateral trade and to increase people-to-people connectivity with our eastern neighbours.
Myanmar had earlier commenced the process to open new waterways with Bangladesh and India followed suit with approving 16 waterway projects for the region, thus showing India’s commitment to prioritize multi-modal connectivity in the North East region (NER) and hence boost trade to and from the region.
Prior to India’s partition, present NER was connected with the then undivided Bengal through Brahmaputra and Barak rivers. This was then the main conveyance system through which goods were transported to the Kolkata port. However, the once flourishing inland navigation system collapsed post partition and only four inland water routes currently remain operational between India and Bangladesh. These are Kolkata-Pandu (in southern Assam via Bangladesh, Kolkata-Karimganji (in southern Assam) via Bangladesh, Rajshahi (in Bangladesh)-Dhulian (in southern Assam) and Karimganj-Pandu-Karimganj via Bangladesh. There are also four ports of call in each country through which inter-country trade through inland waterways can take place. These are: Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla and Sirajganj in Bangladesh and Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj and Pandu in India.
India’s NER looks like an extended arm of the mainland connected through the bottle neck corridor via Siliguri, West Bengal. With more than 4500 km of international border shared with countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar, NER is strategically and economically important as India’s gateway to the Far-East. This apart, NER enjoys bountiful natural resources and immense beauty which is of tourism interest. These factors enhance the importance of this region further. Importance of the initiative to develop new waterways can be understood from the fact that while the distance between Kolkata and Agartala is about 1650 km if one skirts Bangladesh, this distance falls to 515 km if transportation is through Bangladesh, thus reducing great amount of cost and time.
Considering these factors, the government is working on a plan to set up a waterway freight corridor via Bangladesh at a cost of Rs. 5000 crore. This corridor will connect the Indian mainland with the North Eastern states.
This proposed 900-km waterway would be used to transport freight from the northern and eastern states to North East and would start near Haldia in West Bengal, go to the Sunderbans, merge into the Padma River in Bangladesh and then join up with the Brahmaputra in Assam. A waterway is already being developed along the Ganga River between Haldia and Allahabad (1620 km). This link will also be utilized for trade between India and Bangladesh.
All this is part of the PM’s Act East Policy, which is being aggressively pushed at all levels.