Businessmen yesterday demanded an immediate improvement in infrastructure and more banking services at the land ports along the Bangladesh-India border to facilitate trade between the countries.
Many land ports and customs stations that have been in operation for years do not even have a standard office room for government officials and warehouses for loading and unloading of goods, they said at a seminar on 'Development of Land Ports and Land Customs Stations for Trade Facilitation' at the office of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Exporters face hurdles in collecting clearance certificates at the Benapole land port for the absence of local offices of Export Promotion Bureau and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution, said Matiur Rahman, a trader who uses this port.
Perishable imported items often rot during transportation for heavy traffic: the approach roads to Benapole have not been completed yet, he said.
Last year, goods worth $5.6 billion were exported and imported through this land port last year, with more than 80 percent of the trade between India and Bangladesh taking place through it.
Chamber leaders of almost all districts through the bordering areas with India complained about the poor condition of infrastructure and the absence of banking facilities at the land ports.
Mosaddek Hossain, president of Dinajpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said although the railway connection was installed with the Hilly Land Port at Dinajpur a few years ago, it is not working now. As a result, the users of this port cannot enjoy the benefits of easier and cheaper transportation of goods, he said.
Similarly, Birol Land Port, also in this district, is not functioning, although both the land ports could be used for business with India, Nepal and Bhutan, he added.
Coal importers from India have been facing difficulties due to the bad condition of the five land customs stations at Sunamganj, said Khairul Huda, president of Sunamganj Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We want the government to declare the Jibonnagar customs station at Chuadanga as a land port soon. The businessmen in this district are also facing problems in doing business with India through this station for lack of adequate infrastructure,” said Eyakub Hossain Malik, president of Chuadanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Even three years ago, 500-700 trucks used to ply through the Sonamasjid land port at Chapainawabganj district a day. Now, the number has declined to 250-250 due to the poor condition of the ports, said Abdul Wahed, president of Chapainawabganj Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Pankaj Saran, Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, who attended the seminar as the special guest, also acknowledged the poor conditions of the land ports along the border.
“Infrastructure in the land ports has been neglected over the years. We should exchange visits regularly to solve the problems in those areas,” he said, adding that the success of mutual trade and benefit between Bangladesh and India is largely dependent on the success of land port operations.
The crossing of immigrants through Benapole and Petrapole, the Indian side of Benapole port, has doubled to 1.2 million in 2014 from 600,000 in 2013, he said.
He urged the Bangladesh government to post customs officials at the different land ports to ensure smooth operations.
Some 22 of the 181 land customs stations along with 4,246 kilometres of Bangladesh's border with India and Myanmar have been declared as land ports, according to land port authorities.
Of the land ports, 21 are along the Indian border, with only one being in the vicinity of Myanmar -- Teknaf Land Port in Cox's Bazar.
Ten land ports are in regular operations now but at least 15 are needed to increase business between the two countries, said Farid Uddin, a member of National Board of Revenue. “If we cannot operate the land ports properly, we cannot stop informal trade along the bordering areas.”
Tapan Kumar Chakravorty, chairman of Bangladesh Land Port Authority, said the government has been implementing a project worth Tk 143 crore to widen a road up to Benapole port to ease traffic.
Shajahan Khan, shipping minister, said the government will not allow private companies to operate the land ports as their experiences with them are not pleasant. The government will announce the Sheola customs station in Sylhet as a land port soon as the potential of this port is high, he said.
Nakugaon in Sherpur district is another good customs station that might also be announced as a land port, he said.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of FBCCI, moderated the seminar, while Md Nojibur Rahman, chairman of NBR, also spoke.