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India, Bangladesh test waters again - Karimganj-bound cargo ships from both countries set to sail from Calcutta this week

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  • Published 18.07.12

Silchar, July 17: India and Bangladesh are on happy waters again after reviving a protocol to use the neighbouring country’s rivers.

The sailing of cargo ships from Calcutta river port to the trading town of Karimganj in Assam along the Indo-Bangladesh border is all set to resume this week amid much fanfare.

The annual event of sailing of cargo vessels from Calcutta’s Jagannath ghat port is generally flagged off in May when pre-monsoon showers help the ships to cruise through both Bangladeshi and Indian rivers. But it got delayed this year as the navigation protocol on inland transit and trade between India and Bangladesh, facilitating cargo movement through the territorial river waters of the adjoining nation, expired on March 31 and a new one was not signed till July 2.

The shipping companies of both the countries heaved a sigh of relief when the secretary of shipping in India, Pradip Kumar Sinha, and his counterpart in Bangladesh, Abdul Mannan Haoladar, signed the protocol on July 3.

With all impediments now removed, one ship each from both the countries is ready to set sail from the Calcutta river port in a day or two, Bijendra Kumar Das, the assistant manager of the Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited, Karimganj river port, said.

A highlight of the two-year navigation protocol, which will continue till March 31, 2014, is that India has agreed to pay an annual fee of Rs 10 crore to Bangladesh to conserve some mutually chosen territorial rivers. This tariff in the last protocol was Rs 5 crore.

Besides, India has agreed to allow Bangladeshi cargo vessels sailing from West Bengal to ply upto Badarpur river port in south Assam, 30 km from Karimganj, on the Barak river, which is National Waterway 6. Earlier, the cargo vessels used to ply only between Calcutta and Karimganj river port, a distance of about 1,300km.

The Badarpur river port had got a much-needed facelift a few years ago with a central grant of Rs 8 crore as part of a plan to upgrade it into a full-fledged river port. Under this plan, a jetty was modernised and a new warehouse was built.

Das said usually two types of cargo ships ply between Calcutta and Karimganj — the smaller cargo ships which can carry 500-600 tonnes of goods and the double cargo vessels which ferry about 1,500 metric tonnes. Last year, seven cargo ships plied between Calcutta and Karimganj during the monsoon months.

In terms of energy consumption, the diesel requirement for a steamer is 10 litres per metric tonne, which is cheaper compared to the road journey from Calcutta to south Assam, where 40 litres of diesel are used in hauling each tonne of goods.

A vessel on this route usually takes 11 days to cover the distance. The route has two customs gates at Sheikhberia and Jakiganj in Bangladesh.

The inland water corporation has plans to ply cargo steamers beyond Badarpur river port to Silchar and Lakhipur ports on the Barak, the second biggest river in the Northeast.

During the British rule, the Steamer Navigation Service company used to ply cargo ships upto these two ports but such journeys came to a halt in the wake of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. It was resumed in 1972.

While India exports coal, marble tiles, fresh fruits, stainless steel, sanitary wares, ceramic goods and dry chillies through the river route in Bangladesh, it imports fruit juices, cement, hilsa, aerated water, melamine products and dry cell batteries.