Space shortage stifles export thru Banglabandha land port
Several hundred trucks have been waiting outside the Banglabandha land port for the past 12 days for space to be made available for exports to be offloaded on the Indian side.
During a visit on Friday, this correspondent found three-kilometre queues of around 400 trucks lining both sides of the Panchagarh-Banglabandha highway.
While the port can accommodate only a small number of trucks, exports through it have increased nearly fourfold since the 2015-16 financial year, according to data from various sources.
That year, 31,128 tonnes of exports passed through the port and it increased to 1,13,390 tonnes in 2019-20 financial year.
Sitting on 10.48 acres of land in Tetulia upazila of Panchagarh, the port facilitates cross-border trade between Bangladesh and neighbouring India, Nepal and Bhutan.
According to port sources, lentils, hard rock, wheat and onion are brought over through the land port while jute and feed products and medicine are exported.
Inaugurated on January 22, 2011, the port has a storage capacity of around 500 tonnes.
Other than the administrative and immigration building, the port's warehouse, open stack-yard, truck terminal, weighbridge and other existing infrastructures are not enough to accommodate the increase in trade.
However, development of the area is ongoing.
Meanwhile, truck drivers and their helpers are facing untold sufferings. The situation has also created congestion for general traffic in the area.
Md Hasan Ali, a truck driver, said his vehicle was hired from Dhaka on August 28. He arrived on the port-end of the highway with goods two days later on August 30.
"It's been 11 days since then but I am yet to pass," Ali said, lamenting that none would bear his overstay charges.
"As there is no truck stop in the area, we have to pass our days tired in our trucks," said Nasir Hossain, another trucker.
Hossain said he arrived at the port on August 30 and does not know why his crossing into India has been delayed. The goods on his truck are bound for Nepal.
Once the matter came to his notice, Jahrul Islam, the deputy commissioner of Panchagarh, sat with the port authorities, exporters and importers and other representatives on August 31 to find a solution. The meeting took several decisions.
Talking with The Daily Star over the phone, Islam said he too visited the port on Friday. He said export through the land port had increased in recent months, which gave rise to some space shortages.
"There is a shortage of space in both the Bangladesh and Indian parts for dealing with the huge volume of import and export items," he said.
"As export activities increased through the Banglabandha port in recent months, offloading of exports at the Indian Phulbari (land port) area has slowed down for space shortages," Islam added.
The deputy commissioner went on to say that the matter has already been referred to the relevant authorities of both countries.
Besides, a temporarily initiative has been taken to shift the trucks from the highway to a makeshift parking spot.
"The port earned Tk 1 crore in revenue on a single day (September 7)," Islam said, adding that he hoped the problem would be resolved within a couple of days.
Kudrat-e-Khuda Milon, general secretary of a platform of importers and exporters at the port, said the problem arose for a shortage of space for offloading exports at the Phulbari land port on the Indian side.
Besides, there is a space shortage in the Banglabandha port area, for which Milon urged the government to fast take remedial initiatives.
Rezaul Karim, convener of the Banglabandha C&F agents' association and senior vice president of the Panchagarh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, echoed him.
He suggested that with the recent increase in cross-border trade, the port authorities needed to increase the size of the port as early as possible.
It is the only port in Bangladesh to conduct trade with three countries -- India, Nepal and Bhutan.
"So, the port needs at least 40 acres of land instead of the existing 10 acres of land," Karim said.