A 150 sq ft patch of land, just ahead of the border fencing at Nabin Para, in Sabroom, Tripura, is levelled and marked as P1.
It indicates the location of the first pillar of a proposed 130-crore road bridge across the River Feni, which divides India and Bangladesh.
Once complete, the bridge will connect Tripura and other landlocked north-eastern States to Bangladesh’s Chittagong sea port, approximately 72 km from the international boundary.
The bridge, of course, is not the only piece of infrastructure required to convert this sleepy village, the last post of India on this part of the world, into a trade hotspot. Other plans are afoot, too. The village will be connected by a four-lane national highway — under construction now — to State capital Agartala, approximately 132 km away.
Also under construction is a broadgauge rail link to Sabroom. The Guwahati-Agartala broadgauge link, inaugurated in July 2016, has already been extended to Garji, which is midway between Agartala and Sabroom.
Also, India and Bangladesh have agreed to extend the rail link to Chittagong port as well, but that will take time.
Logistics hub: The Agartala-Sabroom road and rail link and the Feni bridge are slated to be completed in two years.
But that alone will not trigger trade. The early planners, both in the Centre and the State, overlooked creating a land port.
The need of the hour are Integrated Check Posts (ICPs). Unlike the Land Customs Stations (LCS) that offer rudimentary trade and immigration facilities, an ICP operates as a full-fledged logistics hub featuring parking lots, warehouses and container transshipment facilities. Passengers are offered airport-like immigration facilities.
Tripura already has such a facility, owned and operated by the Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI), the sole provider of these facilities along the land border.
The Manik Sarkar-led Tripura government, which is a prime mover of India’s economic cooperation agenda with Bangladesh, recently approached the LPAI to set up a land port at Sabroom. Following an initial assessment, the LPAI identified the need for fresh land acquisition to build the ICP.
Land may not be an issue, as the villagers here are keen to use the opportunity to earn a premium. A bigger task is to assess the size of the ICP.
It is expected that the new gate will be used primarily to bring in supplies from other parts of India and to move out goods produced in the North-East to the rest of the nation. But the projected cargo volume is yet to be estimated.
ICP at Srimantapur?: Meanwhile, the LPAI is considering taking over the Sitarampur LCS in Tripura’s Sipahijala district, bordering Bibirbazar in Bangladesh.
Srimantapur is the second largest border gate in the State after Agartala, witnessing daily imports of 60-70 truckloads of cement and other building material from Bangladesh.
Export cargoes are fewer due to restrictions imposed by Dhaka. In the first six months of this fiscal, goods worth 37 crore were imported through the gate. Exports amounted to 7.5 crore.
The State government thinks trading through the gate will increase over the next two years, as it is located close to the upcoming Agartala-Sabroom highway. To tap the potential, a 16-crore modern immigration and cargo handling facility was opened in January 2016 at Srimantapur.
However, two years down the line, the facility is largely unused, as the Customs allow loading and unloading operations right on the village road.
The State government wants the LPAI to take over the facility and upgrade it into an ICP.
For this, the LPAI has reportedly identified the need for more land to expand the parking bay.