India-Bangladesh border talks should focus on road communication

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Editorial

Thomas Lim
Meghalaya is playing host to the four-day dialogue on border issues between India and Bangladesh which began on July 12, 2017, with Dhaka complaining about illegal killings of Bangladeshis and illegal entry of Indians into Bangladesh. A 23-member delegation of the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) led by Additional Director General M. Zahid Hasan arrived here in Meghalaya. U.C. Sarangi, the Inspector General of the Border Security Force (BSF), led the Indian delegation at the annual meeting.

The four-day dialogue will also witness the BSF focused on issues like activities of Indian insurgents in Bangladesh, smuggling of cattle and fake Indian currency besides other trans-border crimes. The Indian delegation also discussed the construction of a single row fencing and development works along the 4,096-km India-Bangladesh border to check the movement of militants and to check border crimes.
While BGB officials emphasized the issues of firing, killing and injuring of unarmed Bangladeshi nationals by Indians, arrests of Bangladeshis, illegal trespassing by Indians into Bangladesh besides smuggling of drugs and narcotics, keeping in mind the backdrop that the Bangladesh delegation denied the presence of Indian insurgent groups in Bangladesh, they promised to take action if any such elements were found.
More than just the official talks, which mostly only ends in paperwork, the talks should have kept in mind the recent development where, the North East states recently had raised a demand for better road communication as the current state of roads is one of the prime factors fragmenting the region not just within, but also from the rest of India. Inter-state boundary issues turn out to be the main obstacle for improvement. the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas of the Indian Government and the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) of the Bangladesh Government shows that humanitarian spirit still exists through the Memoranm of Understanding (MoU) inked in Dhaka on August 18, 2016.
The IOCL will transport petroleum products from the NE state of Assam to Tripura through Bangladesh from September 7 next as the short-term India-Bangladesh deal on shipping of petroleum products remains valid till September 30, 2016.
An official statement of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka said that based on the request by the Indian government; Bangladesh has granted permission for the movement of petroleum goods on humanitarian grounds through their territory. The MoU will permit India to carry petroleum goods (Motor Spirit, High Speed Diesel, Superior Kerosene Oil and Liquefied Petroleum Gas) from Assam to Tripura through Bangladesh territory to make a buffer stock of them in the northeastern state.
The Indian oil tankers carrying petroleum products from Bongaigaon (northern Assam) will ply on the Dawki border (Meghalaya)- Tamabil (Bangladesh)- Chatlapur (Bangladesh)- Kailasahar (north Tripura) route covering a distance of 136 km in about four hours.
This new route via Bangladesh will save time and costs in carrying petroleum products from Assam to Tripura as over ten hours is needed to transport these essential items through the existing mountainous route which stretches over 400 kms. Besides this, the condition of national highways through Meghalaya and southern Assam is horrifying.
It is also a bitter truth that besides the terrain and depleting road communication, frequent economic blockade, breakdown of Law and Order, and worst so extortion by both the miscreants and at times the Highway patrolling parties, not only escalated the cost of transportation, it also put the lives of the drivers at risk.
In spite of all odds, transportation is one of the faster growing industries in the region, most of the proprietors of the transport services are tycoons and as such entry of railways as a better means of transportation is being opposed. The citizens from the region are yet to realize that all such agitations are directly affecting the economics of the region.
Take the case of Meghalaya, as the Bye-pass route was opened, all vehicles were diverted from Mawryngneng, which was once a thriving highway and has now become a deserted stretch of road. If all such important transit routes are being diverted, Meghalaya in particular and the NE in general will be greatly affected economically.
It may be mentioned that the short-term India-Bangladesh deal on shipping of the petroleum products is not the first of its kind. Bangladesh had earlier allowed India to carry food grains and heavy machineries from different parts of India to Tripura via Bangladesh. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has transported a fresh consignment of 2,350 tonnes of rice last week from Kolkata to Tripura via Bangladesh to avoid transportation hitches through the traditional route of Assam and Meghalaya.
Earlier in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes through Ashuganj port for the 726-MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.
There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern region through Assam and West Bengal that passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles, especially loaded trucks, very difficult. Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road, and 2,637 km from New Delhi. But the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just 620 km.
Yet, till date most transport owners and the drivers have accepted the situation, therefore the MoU with Bangladesh government not only reduce the time factor and shorten the route, it also ensure a better and safer journey. It is time for the all the state governments from the NE region to come together and remove all the inter-state boundary disputes, and jointly move the Ministry of Road transport and Highways to improve the road communication which is the only life-line of the region.
There are both direct and indirect effects on the livelihood of many families entirely dependent on transportation, as witnessed how once the busy districts of the Jaintia Hills region now have a number of ghost towns due to the blanket ban on rat hole coal mining by the National Green Tribunal, once the transportation of coal was stopped.
The rise of crime and theft in the state is also attributed to the said ban on coal mining, where many will resort to any means in trying to make ends meet and have resorted to anti-social activities. Many eateries along the highways were closed down, labours were rendered jobless and many mine owners shifted base, more than the coal business, all such are due to the sudden closure of transportation business.
The central government already has two proposal one being the opportunity as both in India and abroad, to attract investment keeping North Eastern region as the hub, particularly for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with an assurance to improve all necessary infrastructure, particularly road and air connectivity. Second being the connectivity of the region through railways, as the Modi government strongly believes that there should be an inclusive growth of nation, and North East is part of the projects, hence the region should take advantage for all such provision.
Meanwhile, road connectivity, the only lifeline which transports all the essential commodities and commuters across the region needs to be improved; Law and Order situation and security too should be maintained such that the movement of vehicles is not affected. In the absence of this, the only means of business (transport) for many from the region will also slip away, if the ongoing talks do not end in the inking of a permanent agreement for the communication system along the International border.


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