Land ports deadlock: Exporters considering riverine route to Bangladesh

Exporters to Bangladesh are weighing the option of using the riverine route as an alternative to land port which is in deadlock for more than a month over various issues including quarantine norms during the lockdown.

“Trade is not happening through land ports now. So, there is huge interest among exporters to ship their cargo through inland waterways and seaports,” Calcutta Customs House Agents Association president Subhas Chandra Ghosh told PTI.

The trade through the riverine route was closed after India restricted entry of Bangladeshi barges earlier this month as a measure to check the spread of coronavirus infection. Following this, the neighbouring country also imposed similar restrictions.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday clarified that the movement of inland vessels on the India- Bangladesh protocol route is permitted.

There are no restrictions on export items from waterways and seaports, Ghosh said.

“According to available information, Bangladeshi vessels will enter from Monday,” said Sagar Khastagir, an official of Summit Alliance, a leading Bangladeshi port operator in Kolkata.

Another customs agent said one vessel is getting ready for Bangladesh with a variety of products.

“Usually, fly ash accounts for 85-90 per cent of total cargo via the riverine route. But, in situation like this, movement of other commodities will rise,” the agent said.

Customs officials said they are working round the clock to clear cargo and also offered certain relaxations in the wake of unprecedented times for ease of Exim sector.

Over 2,100 Bangladesh-bound trucks are stuck in and around Petrapole for over a month since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24. According to rules, truckers have to go for a 14-day quarantine once they return from another country.

To allow movement of stranded trucks laden with goods at Petrapole land port on the India-Bangladesh border, the West Bengal government on Tuesday said it can permit only essential commodities to be sent to the neighbouring country, but transfer of cargo has to be done at the no man”s land to avoid the quarantine conditions.

If a truck does not enter another country, there is no question of quarantine for the drivers and helpers.

Through this land ports, India exports cotton fabrics, vehicle chassis, non-alloy steel, yarn, iron and steel products, synthetic fibres, two-wheelers, jute seeds, machinery parts, books and paper, cereals and other food products.

On the other hand, items such as jute, readymade garments, betel nut and rice bran come from Bangladesh.

Demand for high-quality rice from India used to be high in Bangladesh earlier. But its export had shrunk after a duty of 60 per cent was imposed on non-basmati variety by the importing country around two years ago, rice exporters said.

The Volume of basmati has also been negligible. Between April last year and January, 2020, the value of basmati export was below Rs 15 crores, according to the data available with the rice exporters.