Bangladesh yesterday signed the first ever multi-modal transit with India only for carrying equipment to a power plant in Tripura.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Bangladeshi and Indian officials at the shipping ministry yesterday. With this signing, Bangladesh implemented one of the clause of the 50-point Joint Communiqué issued on January 12 during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India.
India will not pay any fees or service charges for this transit even though it would be using Bangladesh's rivers and roads. However, it has agreed to provide Bangladesh Tk 25.50 crore for the development of Ashuganj river port terminal and 49 kilometres of roads.
India has been paying annual charge under river protocol since 1972 and it will continue to do so. The charge has been raised to nearly Tk 5 crore a year since 2009 for five ports of call across Bangladesh.
However, foreign ministry sources said the MoU was signed bypassing the concurrence of the ministry. An official of the ministry said under the Rules of Business, 1996, no ministry can do anything unilaterally if the matter is related to foreign relations.
There were even no foreign ministry officials present during the signing.
According to the MoU, Indian cargo will start from West Bengal's Raimongal and enter Bangladesh at Angtihara under Shaymnagar of Satkhira and go up to Ashuganj river port by inland waterways. The cargo would then be moved to Akhaura on very large lorries pulling long trailers.
A total of 96 Over-Dimensional Cargoes (ODCs) will be carried for the Palatana power project in Tripura. The plant would generate 726-megawatts.
Repair and renovation work of the Ashuganj port and construction of the road will start this month and be completed by next December.
The road from Ashuganj to Sonardi via Sarail, Brahmanbaria, Sultanpur and Akhaura is too narrow for transporting large cargos efficiently and it will be widened to 18 metres.
Chief Engineer of the Roads and Highways Department Azizur Rahman and Senior Adviser and Director of ONGC Tripura Power Company RK Madan signed the MoU on behalf of their respective parties.
The MoU stays valid until June 2012.
AK Hazarika of Oil And Gas Corporation of India (ONGC) at the ceremony said the Indian central government is investing Rupees 4,500 crore in the plant and Rupees 1,000 crore for the exploration of gas.
"This is a great help for India and we look forward to more help from Bangladesh for the development of India's northeast region," he said before the signing.
Replying to questions, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said India will not pay any extra charge but will continue to pay the annual charge under the river protocol for maintaining navigability.
"Why will they pay charge twice? They are constructing the road which we need urgently," he said, added that fees and charges would be settled at higher level of the governments if India wants to use the road in future.
Without making clear whether India will pay any charge for using the road, he said India would construct the road at their own cost.
"It's a glorious day of my life… it's also a glorious day for India," said RK Madan, adding that the signing of the agreement will not only help set up the power plant but also stimulate economic development in the north-eastern India and further cement ties between India and Bangladesh.
Shipping Secretary Abdul Mannan Hawlader in his speech said both the countries would benefit from the MoU. "Nothing should be one sided, it should be reciprocal. Now they [India] should think how they can help us (Bangladesh]," he added.
Hawlader said as per the recommendations of the joint survey team, the river port and the road would be repaired, renovated and constructed. A contractor appointed by the Indian government, who is also a contractor in Bangladesh, would do the job while BIWTA and the Roads and Highways Department will supervise.
Speaking at the ceremony Communications Secretary Mozammel Haq said roads would be widened and strengthened. "Lots of issues will come up during the transportation of the ODCs," he said, adding that normal traffic will not be affected.
According to official sources, each ODC would be up to 120 feet long, around 20 metres wide. The large lorries with trailers will be moving between four to six kilometres an hour.