India agrees to double upkeep fee
India has agreed to nearly double the annual maintenance fees it pays to Bangladesh for using waterways facilities under a protocol between the two countries.
Currently, India pays Tk 5.50 crore in fees.
New Delhi's consent to raise the fees to Tk 10 crore came at a meeting between officials of the two sides in Dhaka yesterday.
The agreed minutes of the meeting, which began on Sunday and ended yesterday, contain this.
The decision will be finalised at the secretary-level meeting on renewal of the waterways protocol within next month.
Since 1972, India has been enjoying limited transit and transhipment facilities under the protocol, which is renewed every two years.
The existing protocol will expire in March this year.
Mohammad Alauddin, joint secretary of the shipping ministry, led the Bangladesh side while his counterpart MC Jauhari led the Indian side in the two-day Dhaka meeting.
Meeting sources said India's consent to double the fees came after hectic negotiations.
The Bangladesh side argued that the fees should be raised as navigability of the existing river routes had deteriorated. The routes from Sherpur to Zakiganj and from Ashuganj to Zakiganj are seasonally navigable.
For this, the maintenance cost including the operational and administrative expenses has increased manifold.
The Indian team was scheduled to travel to Ashuganj after the meeting yesterday. But as negotiations took up most of the day, they had to cancel the Ashuganj visit.
Contacted last night, Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of independent think-tank the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the proposed fees were alright, given that India uses only limited waterways facilities.
However, once the Ashuganj port starts being used as a multi-modal transit point, the fees will need to be fixed afresh, Mustafiz noted.
At the meeting, India sought 17 additional facilities under the waterways protocol.
A shipping ministry official said the Indian officials proposed that Chandpur and Chhatak be treated as new ports of call. But Bangladesh declined to meet the demand with regard to Chandpur, as infrastructure deficiency is acute there. As for Chhatak, Dhaka asked Delhi to make a fresh proposal.
In 2010, Dhaka signed an agreement with Delhi, allowing India to use the Ashuganj river port for transit and transhipment.
India has used the port on an experimental basis and sent goods to Tripura. However, Bangladesh does not allow the neighbouring country to move transit cargoes regularly, as it does not have adequate infrastructure.
At the just concluded meeting, New Delhi also proposed that it be allowed to use Ashuganj as transhipment port to move bulk cargoes between Kolkata and Agartala.
But Dhaka said it would not be possible until adequate infrastructure was in place.
India also proposed a transhipment of cargo from deeper draft vessels to shallow draft vessels at any point in Bangladesh.
Its other proposals included setting up of a customs station at Mongla port, inclusion of the Surma river in the existing protocol and introduction of passenger and cruise services on the protocol routes.
Bangladesh did not agree, saying there should be high-level meetings on those issues.