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Give us passage to Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh tells India

By Sujit Chakraborty, IANS,

Akhaurah (India-Bangladesh Border) : Bangladesh has in principle agreed to provide transit facilities to India but in return has demanded a corridor through West Bengal to carry out bilateral trade with Nepal and Bhutan.

Bangladesh Commerce Minister Colonel (retired) Faruk Khan said: “India already enjoys maritime transit with Bangladesh, and we can hold bilateral talks to resolve the long pending road and rail transit issue.”

“Providing transit facilities to India is not a big problem, it can be resolved through mutual talks. However, India should provide a corridor to Bangladesh through West Bengal to conduct bilateral trade with Nepal and Bhutan,” Khan told reporters Thursday after a function held to mark the export of the first consignment of bricks from Bangladesh to northeastern India.

The bricks export started Thursday through the Akhaurah land port, 150 km east of Dhaka and just 5 km west of Tripura capital Agartala.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni will visit New Delhi Sep 8 and hold talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna and Prime minister Manmohan Singh to resolve bilateral issues.

Referring to Bangladeshi opposition parties’ resistance to providing transit facilities to India, Khan said: “As Bangladesh is a democratic country, different opinion may emerge, but Bangladesh government would consider its people’s interest first and shall not ignore friendly country’s request too.”

Tripura Commerce and Industry Minister Jitendra Chowdhury said: “If Dhaka provides transit facilities to India and allows the use of Chittagong international port and other ports in Bangladesh, commodities and machinery can be transported to the northeast from various parts of India and abroad, saving huge time and money.”

Agartala is 1,650 km from Kolkata and 2,637 km from New Delhi via Guwahati, whereas the distance between the Tripura capital and Kolkata via Bangladesh is about 350 km.

Tripura and other northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

Dhaka had earlier expressed reservations on the transit facility on grounds of security and also wanted a quid pro quo with India on being allowed access to Nepal and Bhutan.

The Bangladeshi minister said that his government has no problem to allow India and other neighbouring countries to use Chittagong international port, which is just 75 km from southern Tripura.

India and other South Asian nations have sought access to Chittagong port because of its location in order to cut huge transport costs and time.

“Ports of Bangladesh and India can not be called ‘our port or your port’. All ports are now everybody’s ports for economic interest of concerned countries,” said Khan, adding that all Bangladeshi ports are being upgraded and increasing their strength.

Bangladesh government has also agreed in principle to allow India to use its waterways to transport heavy machines for Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) upcoming 740 MW power project in southern Tripura.

“Bangladeshi waterways can be used to ferry the heavy machines for the power project,” the commerce minister said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone in October 2005 for the Rs.50 billion Palatana power project.

The fate of the mega power project was hanging in balance as transportation of heavy machinery, including turbines, by road through the mountainous northeastern states was extremely difficult.

If Bangladesh gives permission, ONGC will be able to ship power generation equipment from the Haldia Port in West Bengal to Bangladesh and then to Tripura.