Freight movement: better connectivity with NE in the pipeline
A host of ongoing projects that aim to improve connectivity between the North East (NE) and the rest of India, with Kolkata serving as the hub of operations, are expected to boost trade with the region’s seven landlocked sisters, in addition to facilitating trade with neighboring countries. The operationalization of the port of Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhaine province, whose work is nearing completion, will be a vital step in this direction. The $ 120 million port of Sittwe is part of the India-sponsored Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project (KMMTTP), funded by India, which aims to connect Kolkata to the northeast via the bay from Bengal.
As part of this freight circuit, the goods will be transported from the Khidderpore quay in Calcutta to the port of Switte in Myanmar and from there to Mizoram in northeast India. The journey from the port to Lawngtia in Mizoram will consist of two parts: a 158 km stretch on the Kaladan River in Myanmar to the Paletwa multimodal terminal and a 110 km road journey from the terminal at the Mizoram border. This route will continue to Dabaka in Assam via the 850 km NH54. In addition to providing alternative access to the NE and reducing logistics costs, this route would offer the country a new passage to Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Laos.
A commercial line from the port of Calcutta in the northeast has also been opened via the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh since July 2020. But congestion at the port of Chittagong has posed logistical problems. While a new 955 crore rupee terminal is being built in Ashugunj in Bangladesh with a 33% Indian line of credit, the delay in project execution by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has hampered better connectivity with the NE by the waterway. The development of a channel upstream from Narayanganj to Dhaka, which should be completed during the current fiscal year, and the development of the Sirajganj-Chilmari (in Bangladesh) -Dhubri (in Guwahati) section, with works dredging underway between Sirajganj and Chilmari, is expected to facilitate matters in this context.
Meanwhile, increasing the number of Indo-Bangladesh protocol routes from 8 to 10 in May last year added two ports of call – Jogigopha in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh – to the existing 12 ports of call. The newly added protocol routes provided new connectivity to Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Bhutan.
These projects connecting the rest of India to the northeast via Myanmar and Bangladesh envision Kolkata’s Khidderpore as a hub for the movement of goods. The Kolkata Port Trust, renamed Syama Prasad Mookherjee Port (SMP), is the only Indian port to benefit from multimodal connectivity (rail, road and waterways). Vinit Kumar, president of SMP, points out that the two handling arms of the port – Kolkata and Haldia – are located at the junction of a sea and a river, which allows it to exploit the national waterways (NW) 1 & 2 – NW-1 connects Haldia to Varanasi and NW-2 connects Kolkata and Haldia to the NE via the Indo-Bangladesh protocol roads and the Kaladan River in Myanmar.
The use of inland waterways has helped increase rice and wheat exports to Bangladesh to a daily average of 5,000 tonnes. “The 2.5 lakh tonnes of rice exports to Bangladesh that took place by road last year were achieved in 3-4 months this year using inland waterways,” he says.
It is imperative that the port of Switte becomes operational as soon as possible and that the Indo-Bangladesh protocol roads become more dynamic thanks to the operationalization of the Ashuganj terminal and the Narayanganj fairway, strengthening connectivity to the NE, Sarbananda Sonowal , Union Minister of Ports, Navigation and Waterways, said.