Movement of trucks across the India-Bangladesh border continue to remain suspended for over 70 days now, in the absence of clarity of orders at the district authority levels.
Sources estimate that at least 6,500 trucks are stranded across six different land ports of West Bengal.
International trade is on via rail.
Reports suggest that 1,000 tonnes of onions have been transported via train from Gede (India) to Darshana (Bangladesh). Trains are operating on the Petrapole-Benapole route, too. Other freight train routes available include Singabad-Rohanpur and Radhikapur-Birol.
“The deadlock on road route continues in absence of clarity of orders at the district administration levels,” an exporter told, requesting anonymity.
The Chief Secretary, Rajiva Sinha, and Home Secretary, Alapan Bandopadhyay, remained unavailable for comments and did not respond to messages.
Petrapole, the largest land port around 80 km away from Kolkata in the North 24 Parganas district, which accounts for nearly 47 per cent of cross-border trade, has seen practically no truck movement since March 23. Nearly 2,000 trucks are still stuck despite partial resumption of movements between April 28 and May 3.
On the other hand, trade in Mahadipur (Malda district) — the second largest land port here with an estimated annual trade of $700 million — has seen nearly 4,300 trucks being stuck.
Hili, in Dakshin Dinajpur district of the State, and another major land port accounting for $300-350 million worth of annual bilateral trade (as per estimates) is said to have 400-odd trucks stranded at the border.
Other land ports like Changrabandha (in Cooch Behar) has around 300 trucks queued up; while details of trucks stranded in Fulbari (in Jalpaiguri) and Gojadanga (in North 24 Parganas) could not be ascertained.
No immediate respite
In Petrapole, for instance, the trade restarted with both the governments agreeing to transfer goods at the zero point in April. No truck from either side of the border would enter the other’s territory. Following the instructions, the cargo was exchanged at the zero point in the presence of customs. (Normally, Indian trucks are allowed to enter Benapole, the Bangladeshi side up to their land port terminal.)
However, Indian truck drivers were reluctant to enter Bangladesh for the rules set by the West Bengal government required that they stay in 14-day quarantine on return. Moreover, with locals agitating and expressing fear of spread of the virus, truck movement halted.
Chaitali Chakraborty, District Magistrate, North 24 Parganas, said that trade was allowed “at zero point” in Petrapole. “There is no further order in this regard. Please contact authorities at the State Secretariat,” she said.
Karthik Chakraborty, Secretary, Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association, such trade (at zero point) is not possible. Only 10-12 trucks moved initially post some relaxation.
“We are ready to take precautions and even Bangladeshi unloading agents will not come in contact with their Indian counterparts. But truck movements like pre-Covid times have to be allowed first,” he said. He has already written to the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, urging resumption of truck movement at Petrapole.
In the land ports of North Bengal, trade at zero point was never allowed. Exporter associations across these land ports have started writing to all concerned and have sought intervention of West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, to resolve the matter.
Samir Ghosh, Executive Member, Exporters’ Association (Malda), said that meetings were held with Customs officials assuring them that “necessary precautions will be followed” which include wearing masks and gloves, having protective gear, sanitizing vehicles, and so on. However, “it has not yielded results”.
“Nearly 95 per cent of the lockdown has been relaxed across the State. Why is this stringency being maintained when it comes to cross-border truck movement? District magistrates say they are awaiting further orders from the Nabanna (State Secretariat),” he added.