India to improve rail-road links to Bangladesh: Officials

December 6th, 2010 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Agartala, Dec 6 (IANS) India will extend and improve its road and rail connectivity with Bangladesh to enhance trade and also to get access transit through that country to bridge distances between the mountainous northeastern states and rest of India, officials said here Monday.

As per the agreement signed during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi early this year, India will construct a bridge over Feni river in southern Tripura to get access to Chittagong port for carrying goods and heavy machineries for the land-locked region.

The Chittagong international sea port is about 75 km from Tripura’s southern border town Sabroom.

The proposed bridge, to be built at a cost of over Rs.13 crore, would connect Sabroom and Bangladesh’s Ramgarh and would not only be the trading lifeline for the whole of northeast India, but also help trade from the southeast Asian countries.

“The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has started work to extend its railway network up to the Sabroom in southern Tripura, 135 km from Agartala, and Akhaurah in western Tripura, just 6 km from the Agartala railway station,” NFR general manager Keshav Chandra told reporters.

Agartala is the newest station of the Indian railways, and came up on the country’s rail map in October 2008.

“Works are now in full-swing to extend railway line from Agartala to border town Sabroom by 2014,” said Chandra, who accompanied by 20 senior officials arrived here from NFR headquarters in Guwahati and is now on a three-day visit to Tripura.

Bangladesh operates regular train services along the border on its side up to Akhaurah and various other places, just opposite several sub-divisional towns in Tripura.

“A team of officials of IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company) recently visited Dhaka and held talks with the Bangladesh government and the railway ministry officials and finalised alignment of the 13-km Agartala-Akhaurah connecting rail line,” NFR additional general manager Vipin Jha said.

Subsequently, top officials of the Bangladesh government and the railway ministry visited Tripura in September and signed an agreement in this connection.

Of the 13-km link railway line, connecting with the Bangladesh railway network through Akhaurah railway station, 5.4 km falls in the Indian territory and the remaining is in Bangladesh.

India and Bangladesh had resumed regular train services in April 2008 - after 43 years - through Gede in West Bengal’s Nadia district and Darshana in Bangladesh. The rail journey between Kolkata and Dhaka covers a distance of 406 km.

The service was suspended after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan when Bangladesh was then Pakistan’s eastern wing.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, who visited Tripura last month, emphatically announced that the country would allow South Asian nations, including India, access to its Chittagong and Mongla ports and is keen to revive connectivity in the region.

Earlier, access to these ports was denied to India and a few other countries due to security concerns raised by some opposition parties in Bangladesh.

Dhaka and New Delhi signed a bilateral treaty last week to facilitate the transport of heavy Indian equipment, including turbines for a power plant being set up by the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in South Tripura’s Palatana.

“The treaty would facilitate Indian cargo to ferry through waterways up to Ashuganj river port and then by road to Tripura on very large lorries with long trailers,” an ONGC official here said.

Repair, renovation and improvement works of the Ashuganj port and road connecting to Tripura would be done at India’s cost.

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

The seven northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China and the only land route to these states from within India is through Assam. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

“Trade between the two countries has been constrained by the lack of transhipment facilities. For example, tea from Assam travels 1,400 km to the Kolkata port whereas the distance could be curtailed by 60 to 70 percent if access to Chittagong and other Bangladeshi ports are available,” said a senior official.

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