Exploring the Depths of Chattogram Port: A Game-Changer for India and Bangladesh
In a historic move, the taxation authority of Bangladesh issued a Permanent Standing Order, allowing the operationalization of the Chittagong port for the transit of Indian goods. This decision marks a pivotal moment in the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh, reinforcing their longstanding cultural and socioeconomic ties. As the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Bangladesh in 1971, India has maintained a resilient partnership with its neighbor, exemplified by the uninterrupted supply chain between the two nations during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This initiative holds immense potential for both nations, especially in enhancing trade and investment opportunities, particularly for Bangladesh and the eastern states of India. To realize this potential, seamless connectivity is crucial. The opening of Chattogram Port for transit and transhipment of goods signifies a significant step towards strengthening the economic partnership between India and Bangladesh. By implementing effective multimodal route synchronization, the inland distance for the northeastern states of India can be halved, albeit requiring substantial investments from both India and Bangladesh.
An essential development in this context is the inauguration of the Maitree Setu (Friendship Bridge) on March 9, 2021, connecting Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh over the river Feni. This bridge, located just 80 km away from Chattogram Port, transforms Tripura into the ‘Gateway of Northeast,’ positioning the region for economic upliftment. It exemplifies the closer integration of the BIMSTEC region and larger Southeast Asia, showcasing the potential for increased regional cooperation.
Chattogram, situated on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, serves as Bangladesh’s primary seaport, handling over 90% of the country’s exim trade. India is also actively involved in Bangladesh’s economic landscape, with two Indian Economic Zones established at Mirsarai and Mongla. The collaboration between the two nations and the strategic location of these ports significantly reduce the cost and time involved in transferring goods. For example, compared to the 1,200-kilometer land route between Kolkata and India’s northeastern states, Chattogram and Mongla ports are nearly half the distance, offering a more efficient trade route.
The new route has the potential to replace the overburdened Petrapole-Benapole route, substantially reducing delays faced by cargoes during inland transportation. Several potential corridors connecting major economic clusters in the northeastern region to Chattogram through road, rail, and waterways are being explored. Rail-based systems, known for their longevity and cost-effectiveness, are being considered, although landscape and terrain present challenges in their implementation.
Addressing high logistic costs within the northeastern region, the Asian Development Bank proposed the Sabroom–Ramgarh–Chattogram route, further reducing transportation costs. Additionally, exploring the movement of non-bulk cargoes by sea using the roll-on, roll-off mode through Chattogram to the northeastern region is being considered. However, significant investments are needed to develop a dedicated freight corridor from Chattogram through the Akhaura-Agartala-Guwahati route.
To fund these ambitious projects, a Private-Public Partnership (PPP) model, similar to successful global infrastructure projects, could be employed. This approach allows private entrepreneurs to take charge of construction, operation, and maintenance, ensuring efficient project execution within agreed-upon financial plans. The Build-Own-Operate (BOO) model could also be explored for sustainable project management.
Moreover, the establishment of a multi-modal connectivity system from Chattogram via Ashugunj, covering the Silchar strait to Agartala, has the potential to revolutionize trade between India, its northeastern region, and Bangladesh. However, to attract substantial investments and bolster the connectivity of relevant routes, reducing procedural delays and turnover time remains paramount.
In essence, the operationalization of Chattogram Port signifies a win-win situation for India and Bangladesh, promising enhanced regional cooperation, economic growth, and strengthened bilateral relations. With strategic investments, collaborative efforts, and a shared vision, the depth of opportunities presented by Chattogram Port can be fully realized, ushering in a new era of prosperity and development for both nations.