After the successful trial of transshipment of three cargo vessels, India now wants regular transshipment of bulk cargoes through Ashuganj to Agartala on the land route via Akhaura. It also seeks waiver of bank guarantee as additional facility under the river protocol.
But local experts and foreign ministry advised the government not to throw open the land route facility to India before adequate infrastructure was put in place and to continue with the bank guarantee system until transshipment charges came into force. They apprehend that providing such additional facilities would lead to goods transhipment by India without paying any service charges. India also wants permission to transship its goods through a new route between Ashuganj to Suterkandi and also seeks to transfer goods from deep draft to shallow draft vessels at Ashuganj.
Foreign ministry officials suggested confining Indian cargoes to the routes advised by the Core Committee on Transit and Transshipment.
The Indian High Commission, in a letter to the foreign ministry on December 20, 2011, sought the additional facilities on a regular basis during the lean water flow period that affects the proposed route from Kolkata. It also sought waiver of bank guarantee/bond against goods that are to be transshipped through Ashuganj to Akhaura-Agartala.
The Indian government sought permission to tow pontoon by suitable craft of sufficient draft from Ashuganj to Karimganj.
The foreign ministry was concerned and apprehended that throwing open one additional route to transshipment of Indian goods would lead to opening of many more routes under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT).
“Opening an alternate route from Ashuganj to Suterkandi may result in opening of many more routes,” Kazi Ziaul Hasan, senior assistant secretary, South Asia Wing, wrote in a letter to secretary, ministry of shipping and commerce on December 28 last.
The desk officer of the foreign ministry said the ministry, before it opened the new route, needed to vet whether the road from Ashuganj to Suterkandi would support the additional traffic resulting from transshipment.
The foreign ministry also suggested that the shipping ministry made careful judgement while considering the proposal.
When asked former adviser to the caretaker government M Akber Ali Khan told The Independent that allowing additional facilities beyond the protocol would help India to pass its goods from one place to another through the Bangladesh territory without paying any charges.
The government should not provide any additional facilities beyond the protocol to India until realizing its demands including the deal on Teesta water sharing, removal of non-tariff barriers and opening up of routes to Nepal and Bhutan.
He said if the government allowed India to use its land routes under PIWTT, there would be no requirement for separate transit/transshipment facilities and Bangladesh would lose its bargaining power.
The government last year formed a core committee headed by Tariff Commission chairman Mojibur Rahman, which submitted its report before the government suggesting imposition of charges for many services so that the government can earn substantial revenue. But the commerce ministry last month asked the committee to review the report.