Trade with Bangladesh resumes at Petrapole
Import and export resumed at the Petrapole land port on Thursday afternoon after the Indian and Bangladesh authorities agreed to transfer goods at the zero point of the international border.
Sources said the Bengal government was laying stress on exchanging the cargo at the zero line so that trucks of Bangladesh and India don’t cross the border amid the pandemic.
“The ministry of home affairs issued an order ratifying the state’s stand on Wednesday. Following the order, trade resumed at the Petrapole integrated checkposts,” said a senior state government official.
Cargo was exchanged at the zero point in the presence of customs, BSF and police officers, as well as land port and state government officials.
The order issued by the Union home ministry on Wednesday says: “The state administration has insisted to carry out transhipment of EXIM cargo on the zero line of IB (international border) from Indian trucks to Bangladeshi trucks and viceaversa. Considering the prevailing circumstances and with a view to resume cross border trade at ICPPetrapole, it has been decided to allow transhipment of EXIM cargo on zero line of PetrapoleBenapole international border.”
Eport and import through Petrapole had been suspended over a month allegedly due to reservations expressed by the Bengal government against the backdrop of the pandemic since a large number of clearing agents had been reluctant to undertake the job for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.
Suspension of trade through Petrapole assumes significance as it is the largest land port and about 35 per cent of the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh takes places through the integrated checkpost.
Asked whether the state government had put up a barrier in the trade at Petrapole for the past one month, Bengal chief secretary Rajiva Sinha denied the charge, saying the state would not like any problem to arise as India shares a very good relationship with Bangladesh.
“But we have our obligations,” said Sinha, adding that the state had the right to make the guidelines issued by the Union home minister stricter.
“The MHA can issue a guideline on the international border. But during this corona episode, it has been mentioned that all guidelines issued by the Centre are standard guidelines and the states can make them stricter,” the chief secretary said.
Sources in Nabanna said the state government had never ordered trade to stop, but had made it clear that trucks would not be allowed to cross the international border.
“As the step was ratified by the MHA yesterday, it is now clear that the state had pointed out a genuine issue,” said a source.
The sources said the state government was also reluctant to allow operations, particularly for the safety of the clearing agents and drivers.
The agents, however, still appeared to be reluctant to rejoin duty, claiming that maintaining social distancing was impossible while transferring goods from one truck to another.
Kartick Chakraborty, the secretary of the Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association, said: “Both the state and central governments have told us to maintain safe distance from each other, which in reality is impossible. We have rejoined work, but all of us are scared.”
Since the halt of trade in the third week of March, around 2,000 trucks carrying items for export had remained stranded near the Petrapole land port. There had been pressure from the exporters to resume operations.
Subhajit Mandal, the manager of the Land Port Authority of India in Petrapole, said: “The Bangladesh authorities on Wednesday agreed to resume export and import. They also agreed to obey the conditions laid down by the Bengal government, specifically over not allowing trucks to cross the border.”
Petrapole Exporters and Importers Welfare Association president Paritosh Biswas said: “This is a good decision. We had proposed to resume operations. Huge quantities of essential commodities were getting damaged in the trucks. The exporters were incurring a huge loss.”