India and Bangladesh have resumed bilateral trade via the rail route as the West Bengal government has put a spanner on cross-border transportation by road.
A goods train carrying onions and other essentials has left for Bangladesh from India, said Farid Hossain, spokesperson of the Bangladesh’s high commission in India. He, however, could not give details of the movement saying he was not privy to further details.
The latest development comes after the West Bengal government refused to allow entry and exit of trucks carrying essentials to the neighbouring country through the state despite repeated prodding by the centre.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, in a letter dated May 5 to West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, had stated, “It has been reported that goods traffic through border crossings between India and Bangladesh, falling in the State of West Bengal, has still not resumed. As a result, a large number of trucks carrying essential supplies bound for Bangladesh, are stranded at different border crossing points. A number of drivers of such vehicles, while returning from Bangladesh, have also not been allowed to cross the border, and are stranded in Bangladesh.”
The Centre had directed the state on April 24 to resume cross-border transportation of essentials. Accordingly, movement of trucks through the Petrapole check-post on the West Bengal-Bangladesh border had started on April 30, only to close again on May 2 following protests by locals.
“We had tried sending some trucks carrying essentials on March 30 and again on May 2. But we had to suspend it after a huge law and order problem was created and since then, there has been no movement of goods through this check-post,” said Suvajit Mandal, manager, Petrapole check-post.
The state government too, citing growing cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, had raised objection to the resumption of vehicular movement between the two countries through the state.
“Who will be responsible if due to this movement of transport, the virus spreads through people driving the trucks, and loading and unloading goods,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told the media, expressing her government’s concern.
Bangladesh has a total of 14,657 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The integrated check-post at Petrapole in North 24 Parganas district is the largest land customs station in Asia. The land port accounts for nearly 60 per cent of India’s $4-billion trade with Bangladesh.
Sources in the West Bengal government said it has given its consent for the movement of goods trains. The chief secretary told the Centre that transportation of goods could be done through goods trains instead of trucks as it would be safer.
Though in the past too, goods were ferried through trains, trucks are generally the preferred mode of goods transportation between the two countries, Hossain said. About 450 trucks enter Bangladesh through Petrapole ICP every day.
At present, 200 trucks are stranded at the ICP, while another 2,000 trucks are parked at the parking lots in and around Bongaon, located 7 km away from the check-post, said Mandal.