Transit between Bangladesh and India is set to become fully operational with the first Indian consignment reaching Ashuganj tomorrow on its way to north-eastern Indian state of Tripura.
A Bangladeshi ship carrying the consignment of 1,000 tonnes of iron rods started from Kolkata on June 3.
Anbis Development Ltd, a Bangladeshi operator, hired the ship to carry the goods from Kolkata to Ashuganj, said its General Manager Mahmud-ur Rahman Siddiqui.
The goods would be unloaded at Ashuganj port and then loaded onto Bangladeshi trucks, which would cross the Indo-Bangla border in Akhaura. The vehicles would travel another 32 kilometres to deliver the consignment to warehouses in India.
With the arrival of the goods, India's request to Bangladesh for providing transit facilities would be met.
To make the transhipment a reality, the two countries signed a revised river protocol in Dhaka in June last year.
Under the transit system, goods would be carried from Kolkata to Ashuganj through a river route and then from Ashuganj to Agartala, the capital of Tripura, through a land route.
The transhipment fee for carrying goods would be Tk 192.25 per tonne, said Mofizur Rahman, director (traffic) of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
Apart from the regular transit fee, India would have to pay other charges, he said.
If the Bangladesh side provides security for consignments, it would cost the Indian side an additional Tk 50 for transport of a tonne of goods from Ashuganj to Akhaura, said the BIWTA official.
The Indian side would give Tk 10 for shipment of one tonne of goods through the two canals -- the Mongla Ghosiakhali canal and the Gabkhan Canal.
Labour handling and other charges would cost the users Tk 70 a tonne at Ashuganj port. Besides, piloting charge would be Tk 2,100 and berthing charge a minimum of Tk 250 per consignment, said Mofizur.
The fees were fixed after analysing opinions of Bangladesh Tariff Commission and different ministries, and government high-ups, he added.
On a trial basis, India used the route to bring a consignment of iron rods to Agartala three years ago.
At Delhi's request, Dhaka also allowed it to use the route for carrying heavy machinery to Palatana power plant in Tripura and also 10,000 tonnes of rice to the north-eastern state.
According to Mofizur, a consignment should take around 10 days to reach Tripura from Kolkata via Ashuganj.
But it would take about two weeks for the first Indian consignment to reach Tripura through the route, as the ship carrying the cargo of iron rods faced problems.
Siddiqui said they had initially thought that the fees would have to be deposited with the National Board of Revenue office in Ashuganj.
But when the ship reached the port in Khulna's Angtihara on June 7, customs officials told the vessel's crew to go to Khulna to deposit the fees with the NBR office there and get clearance, he said.
The ship had been moored at Angtihara for around four days and finally set out for Ashuganj on June 11 after the crew got the clearance.
Siddiqui said it would be convenient for them if they could deposit the fees with the NBR offices in Dhaka or Ashuganj.
He, however, said his company had received cooperation from all the government agencies concerned.
The goods are being carried under transhipment arrangement, which means offloading a container from one ship (generally at a hub port) and loading it onto another to be carried to the final port of discharge.
According to BIWTA officials, though the transhipment facility has been given through Ashuganj, the port there is not yet ready for it.
Under a Tk 400-crore financial credit from India, a modern inland container depot was supposed to be built in Ashuganj for smooth transit.
Construction of the depot was delayed because of land acquisition problems and non-disbursement of Indian funds, they said.
However, Bangladesh spent around Tk 10 crore from its own funds to facilitate transit, they said.
At present, trucks from Kolkata have to travel around 1,600km to reach Agartala.
But the distance would be just 800km if they travel through Bangladesh, said Mofizur.
And with the drop in distance comes a significant fall in costs.
SK Mahfuz Hamid, a member of the Bangladesh team negotiating the transit issue with the Indian side, said the cost of transporting goods to Agartala from Kolkata now is $67 per tonne and it takes 30 days for trucks to reach there.
But if the trucks travel through the Kolkata-Ashuganj-Agartala route, the cost would be a maximum of $35 per tonne and it would them take around 10 days to reach the destination, said Hamid, also managing director of shipping company Gulf Orient Seaways.