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Unrest toll on border trade

Petrapole, Dec. 5: Trade across the India-Bangladesh border in North 24-Parganas’ Petrapole has been halted since yesterday because of political unrest in the neighbouring country, holding up around 1,000 trucks and causing an import duty loss of Rs 20 lakh.

Customs officials at Petrapole said around 900 trucks with goods from India, many of them perishables, were stranded at Benapole, the land port in Bangladesh just across the border. Hundred more trucks are stuck in Petrapole as Bangladesh stopped issuing entry passes yesterday.

“Only two trucks that were issued passes on Tuesday crossed the border yesterday but none came from Bangladesh. Import duty of over Rs 20 lakh was lost in a day. This is the first time trade has come to a halt because of violence in Bangladesh,” said Suven Dasgupta, the deputy commissioner of customs at Petrapole.

India imports hilsa, cotton and garments from Bangladesh and exports fish, betel nut, salt, machines and tools, onions and other vegetables.

Customs officials at Petrapole said trade of nearly Rs 12,000 crore had taken place in the last financial year. “The Centre earned import duty to the tune of Rs 340 crore from Petrapole,” an official said.

Although Dasgupta refused to elaborate, other custom officials said their Bangladeshi counterparts had informed them last morning that they would not issue passes to trucks to enter Benapole.

“Senior officials in charge of customs and warehouses informed us verbally that they would not be able to allow Indian trucks to enter as their 32 functional warehouses are already full of goods-laden trucks,” an Indian customs official said. “Bangladeshi trucks have not come to Benapole to pick up the goods because of the unrest,” he added.

“Around 2,000 clearing agents, transporters and money changers involved in the trade have been hit,” said Kartik Chakrabarty, the secretary of the Clearing and Handling Agents’ Association.

Indian immigration officials at Petrapole said that in the last two days, around 480 people had arrived from Bangladesh through Petrapole, much less than the usual 1,200 a day. Around 320 people have crossed over to Bangladesh in the past two days. The number is usually 800 daily.