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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)

Next Story

National Clean Air Programme Should Set Higher Targets

Air pollution in India is now a national security issue. It needs as much attention and budget provision as discussion and sense of urgency in the procurement of defence equipment

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India, air pollution
An Indian Air Force soldier drinks tea as he stands guard next to rifles during a break at the rehearsal for the Republic Day parade on a cold winter morning in New Delhi, Dec. 26, 2018. VOA

By Rajendra Shende 

There is a striking similarity between Paris Climate Agreement and India’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched recently. The Paris Agreement is an agreement by the countries to map a global action to keep global warming two degrees centigrade below pre-industrial level.

It utterly lacks teeth to deal with issues, among others, non-compliance and the essential need for finance and technology transfer for achieving that target. Volunteerism is the undercurrent on which the shaky edifice of Paris Agreement rests.

India’s NCAP is a similar story. It is a plan to make a plan to keep the air quality that meets the norms of the World Health Organisation (WHO). While the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) deserves all the appreciation and encouragement to get going on the job, though quite late and definitely five years behind schedule of another polluted country, China. Non-recognition of the nation-wide threat seems to be the undercurrent on which this well-intended and much-needed national programme rests.

To be fair, the anti-pollution measures have already begun in India over the last decade, though in bits and pieces and through knee-jerks, mainly in setting air quality and vehicle emissions standards, national air quality monitoring programme and indices, fuel quality norms etc.
Even after 42 measures issued earlier by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and graded response action plan that addresses the seasonal and level of severity for Delhi and other cities, air pollution remains a national challenge of Himalayan proportions.

The only major action that has been effective in providing the immediate benefits is extraordinary and accelerated level of penetration of LPG-use in the household and in public transport like buses and auto-rickshaws. Energy efficiency measures through use of LED bulbs, efficient fans, refrigerators and air conditioners have helped in reducing the consumption of fossil fuel in generating extra electricity and the air pollution.

Credit certainly goes to the present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal. Sadly, India still remains on top of the list of the countries where a majority of the mega cities have air quality which is a hundred times worse than the WHO norms.

Nearly 50 per cent of the top most polluted 30 cities are in India. Delhi is now more known dubiously as the world” air-pollution capital rather than India’s political capital. Out of the seven million deaths that take place globally, as per WHO, due to outdoor and indoor pollution, nearly 1.25 million deaths ( 2017) take place in India.

Delhi. air pollution
A man rides his bicycle in front of the India Gate shrouded in smog in New Delhi, Dec. 26, 2018. VOA

About 51 per cent of these deaths were of people younger than 70. More than four decades of the efforts on a ‘smokeless chulha”(domestic cooking stove), first by the government and then by the mushrooming national and international NGOs, the deaths in 2017 due to indoor pollution caused by the burning of the solid fuel in cooking stoves stands at half a million, as per one report. This in a country where clean environment and pollution-free air and water are constitutionally mandated.

India” efforts at the highest level really started more than four decades back when The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, was enacted under Article 253 of the Indian Constitution to enhance the well-being of its citizens which is now deep-rooted in India” development philosophy and strategy. The 106 pages of the NCAP with nearly 63 pages of substantive text and rest broad strategies and annexes represent, at best, good intentions and a structured way to move forward. The document, however, grossly overlooks the nation-wide emergency and drastic measures needed to redress the grim, dangerous and fast-deteriorating situation.

In a country where emergency measures are not unfamiliar, one wonders why the NCAP sounds like any other plan that embodies elephantine speed of execution.

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The goal of the NCAP is to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated time-frame. It recognises that internationally, the successful actions had been city-specific rather than country-wide. It also recognises that 35-40 per cent reduction of pollutants in five years for cities, such as Beijing and Seoul, particularly in regard to particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10) concentrations. Hence, the target of 20-30 per cent reduction in such concentration by 2024 is proposed under the NCAP (2017 as base year).

Recognising Modi” proclamation that the 21st century is going to be India” century, it is not clear why the NCAP target is lower than what is achieved in Beijing and Seoul. If India takes the top place in GDP growth globally, why do we have such low targets in meeting air quality over five years, particularly considering the fact that it is the 65 per cent of India” young population would be the main victims of the worsening air quality?

Air pollution in India is now a national security issue. It needs as much attention and budget provision as discussion and sense of urgency in the procurement of defence equipment. (IANS)