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Direct Cargo Shipments ‘historic step’ for Indo-Bangladesh trade

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Bangladesh’s Chittagong port. Image source: lightcastlebd.com

Dhaka, Bangladesh: For the first time in their history as nations, neighbors Bangladesh and India last week launched direct cargo services that would enable goods shipped by sea to reach each other’s ports in a maximum of four days, officials say.

Previously, goods sent from India took more than three weeks to reach Bangladesh’s Chittagong or Mongla ports because shipments first had to pass through Colombo or Singapore, Bangladesh shipping minister Shajahan Khan said.

“I have inaugurated the service on Tuesday and the first Bangladesh cargo ship left Chittagong Thursday for Indian ports. This is a historic day for all of us,” Khan told reporters.

“The businessmen used to take at least 25 days to carry goods to and from India and Bangladesh. Now, with the coastal shipping service in place, we can export to and import from India in only four days. This reduced time and cost would automatically boost trade between the two neighbors,” Khan said.

Businessmen said the direct routes would also boost trade between India and Bangladesh and allow India to ship products to its seven northeastern states via Chittagong port.

“The coastal shipping is a very good move to increase trade in the sub-region comprising Bangladesh, landlocked northeastern states of India, Nepal and Bhutan,” Q.K. Ahmad, the former president of the Bangladesh Economic Association, told BenarNews.

Bangladesh and India signed an agreement during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka on June 6, 2015, followed by the signing of a protocol in November, which cleared the way for direct maritime cargo services.

The countries’ bilateral annual trade volume is worth more than U.S. $6.6 billion, according to a commerce ministry figure.

Cargo ships from Bangladesh’s Chittagong, Narayanganj, Ashuganj, Paira, Khulna, Mongla and Pangaon (near Dhaka) ports can carry goods to seven Indian eastern coastal ports in Kolkata, Haldia, Paradip, Vishakhapatnam, Kakinada, Krishnapatnam and Chennai and vice versa, according to the agreement papers.

On Thursday, Bangladeshi shipping company Neepa Paribahan dispatched its first cargo ship laden with cotton and textile items from Chittagong port to the Indian port of Krishnapatnam, company CEO Sirajur Rahman told reporters.

Before this week, a ship from India’s Kolkata port could reach Chittagong ports in two days, but companies had to pay the rate based on a 25-day transit via Singapore or Colombo.

“And businessmen must charge for every second. The higher cost results in higher commodity prices to the consumers,” Rahman said.

Khwaza Moinuddin, a columnist and former president of Economic Reporters’ Forum in Bangladesh, explained that Bangladeshi and Indian businessmen used to ship cargo between the two countries, via Singapore and Colombo, for economic reasons.

“The volume of cargo generated in different Indian ports for Bangladesh was not adequate to load a big ship, as a majority of the export-import business was done through land ports. So all the small consignments of cargo were sent to Colombo or Singapore, where businessmen jointly hire big Bangladesh-bound ships,” he told reporters.

Mainuddin said the introduction of the coastal shipping service would allow small ships to shuttle to all ports located along India’s east coast and carry the goods to and from Bangladesh.

Easing overland bottlenecks

The text of the bilateral deal stipulated that the maritime shipping services between India and Bangladesh would enable the movement of cargo to the Northeastern states through Chittagong, and thereafter by road or river routes.

“The deep draft ports on the eastern coast of India can be ‘hub ports’ for the onward transportation of cargo to Bangladesh via the coastal mode. The Indian ports will attract enhanced cargo and also the overall transportation cost to Bangladesh will get reduced,” the document said.

The rapid growth of India-Bangladesh trade has resulted in congestion at the main Petrople-Benapole land port. The traffic congestion on the Bangladesh side of the land port has emerged as one of the biggest impediments to export-import trade, it said.

(The article was originally published in benarnews.org)

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Modi pens foreword for Hema Malini’s biography

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Hema Malini

New Delhi, Oct 13 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi has penned a “short, crisp and sweet” foreword for “Beyond The Dreamgirl”, an authorised biography of actress and BJP MP Hema Malini.

The book, by former editor of Stardust and producer Ram Kamal Mukherjee, will be launched on October 16, when the “evergreen beauty” turns 69. Its launch also marks the celebration of Hema Malini’s glorious run of 50 years in Indian showbiz.

“Our PM has written very briefly in the book about his feelings for Hemaji. It’s short, crisp and sweet, not rubble and bubble. It’s an honour for me as an author and for Hemaji also that it is perhaps the first time that an active Prime Minister has written a foreword for a book on a Bollywood actor,” Mukherjee told IANS over the phone from Mumbai.

Having started her film career in 1968 with Raj Kapoor-starrer “Sapno Ka Saudagar”, she regaled movie buffs with roles in films like “Seeta Aur Geeta”, “Sholay”, “Dream Girl” and “Satte Pe Satta”. An accomplished classical dancer, Hema Malini earned the epithet of ‘Dreamgirl’ for her flawless beauty, and became a pioneering female superstar in an otherwise male-oriented film industry.

In 1999, Hema Malini campaigned for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate in the Lok Sabha elections in Gurdaspur, Punjab. She is now a BJP MP from Mathura constituency.

“I guess it’s all because of Hemaji’s credentials and contribution to art and cinema that Mr Modi agreed to pen the foreword. When I was interacting with his office, they were very happy that Hemaji did not just limit her talk in the book to Bollywood,” said Mukherjee, who had in 2005 released a coffee table book called “Hema Malini Diva Unveiled”.

“Beyond The Dreamgirl”, published by HarperCollins India, will give readers an in-depth look into her life.

“It is divided into 23 chapters, covering her childhood, teens, Bollywood, rise as an actor, romance, colleagues, marriage, her second innings, launching Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Dil Aashna Hai’ — which she directed — her ballet, her political journey and spiritual journey. There are two chapters dedicated to her daughters Esha and Ahana.

“She has also spoken about her Agra accident and her singing career. We have summed it all up with a chapter called ‘Bliss’. This book will also have Hemaji’s family tree, which has not been published earlier, and there will be a lot of exclusive unseen photographs from her personal, professional and political spheres,” Mukherjee said.

The ageless talent has shared an insight into her life with Dharmendra as well as spoken on political figures like Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj.

How did Mukherjee get Modi to pen the foreword?

“It was not something thought of when I started writing the book two years ago. I started my research and wanted somebody else to do the foreword,” he said, without naming the film industry person whom he had approached.

“It was almost like a miracle to have Mr Modi write for us. When I discussed it with Hemaji, her first expression was, ‘I hope you know what you’re saying. I know you’re under pressure, but I think you’re losing your mind’.

“When I said there’s no harm in trying, she said, ‘You try and do whatever you want to do’. Then it was a process.”

The writer feels it’s the actress’ constant effort in promoting Indian classical music and dance through her ballets on Hindu mythological characters like Durga and Meera, which Modi appreciates.

“I think Mr Modi liked her inclination towards classical dance and music and how she promotes it at international platforms. I think this is a USP of Hema Maliniji, apart from she being Hema Malini. And I guess that’s also what justifies the title of the book.”(IANS)

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.