India to ferry food grains for northeast via Bangladesh


Guwahat: Dhaka has agreed to allow New Delhi to ferry food grains for the northeastern states via Bangladesh, officials said here Friday.

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“After the Bangladesh government’s green signal, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Inland Water Transport Authority (IWTA) are now selecting agencies that would carry the food grains and essential items,” Tripura food department commissioner B.K. Roy told reporters.

“The issue was discussed at a meeting of food ministers and food secretaries of the northeastern states in Guwahati Thursday,” he said.

Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas chaired the meeting attended by food ministers of seven northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura — and other government officials.

The northeastern states have largely been dependent on supply of food grains from other states, specially Punjab and Haryana.

Surface connectivity is a key factor as the hilly region is surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal.

For ferrying goods, essentials and heavy machinery from abroad and other parts of the country, India has for long been demanding land, ports and rail access to the northeast through Bangladesh, which shares a 4,095-km border with India.

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

“Due to shortage of rail wagons, inadequate storage facilities and various other bottlenecks, the northeastern states have been suffering from poor supply of food grains for most part of the year, especially during monsoon,” he said.

During the monsoon season (June to September), road transport becomes very difficult in the mountain regions due to landslides, floods and other calamities.

“Thomas told the meeting that the government is very much hopeful about the transportation of food grains and essentials via Bangladesh. Formal agreements are expected to be signed with that country only after logistical issues are settled,” Roy said.

On the key issue of storage facilities in the northeastern states, the minister said a proposal for construction of warehouses with a total capacity of 5.4 lakh tonnes at an estimated cost of Rs.568 crore has been approved by his ministry.

“A special provision of Rs.24 crore would be given as grant for the construction of intermediary godowns (warehouses) by the state governments of the region. The Planning Commission supports the proposed augmentation of storage capacity in the northeast,” he said.

There are eight ongoing projects and 39 new projects have been identified. The state governments have been requested to give all possible assistance to the FCI for identifying land for construction of warehouses, he added.