By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala: With the depreciation of the Indian rupee against the dollar and political turmoil in Bangladesh, trade between the northeastern states and India’s eastern neighbour has been enormously affected, officials and traders said.
According to a senior official of the Tripura Industries and Commerce Department, the trade volume was Rs.343 crore last year (2012-13) and Rs.331 crore in the year before that (2011-12), when one considers trade only through the three Land Customs Stations (LCS) along the India-Bangladesh border with Tripura.
“Through the Akhaurah checkpost, trade worth Rs.245 crore was done during the last fiscal; it was only Rs.75.16 crore during the first seven months of the current financial year. The trade volume would not exceed Rs.100 crore during the entire current fiscal through the Akhaurah checkpost,” the official told IANS, adding that the trade through the other two checkposts at Raghna and Delonia was Rs.98 crore.
Akhaurah checkpost is the biggest international land trading port in northeastern India and the second-largest along the Bangladesh border after the Petrapol-Banepole checkpost in West Bengal. An average of 200 to 230 Bangladeshi trucks used to come to Tripura every day through this crossing.
The Akhaurah land port, 150 km east of Dhaka and just one km west of the heart of Tripura capital Agartala, is one of Bangladesh’s biggest trading routes with northeastern India.
The official said trading between northeastern states and Bangladesh had almost stopped during the past several days because of the violent agitation by opposition political parties in that country.
Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Makhan Lal Debnath said: “There is no sign of improvement in the situation in the near future.”
Of the 32 land port customs stations along the 4,095-km India-Bangladesh border with West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, a large number are not operational on a regular basis, according to reports available with the Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Debnath said: “The twin crises (decline of the Indian rupee against the US dollar and the political turmoil in Bangladesh), besides affecting trade, are also having an impact on the morale of traders.”
Bangladesh exports clothes, leather, food, confectionery, stone chips, cement and construction material, jewellery, processed food and fish. Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam export fertilizer, precious stones, fruit, spare parts and forest produce, among others, to Bangladesh.
Indian traders said that successive strikes, agitations and violent protests in Bangladesh and the adverse security situation, coupled with depreciation of the Indian rupee against the dollar, have affected trade at all land custom stations in Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya.
“With fall in trade, the northeastern states have been facing shortage of fish and commodities like stone chips, cement and electronic goods,” importer Babul Roy said.
Bangladeshi truck drivers are unwilling to ply their vehicles in the trouble-torn scenario.
“When we ply our trucks, the agitators attack us on the roads and damage our vehicles and goods,” said Matiur Rahman, a truck driver from Brahmanbaria in eastern Bangladesh.
“Over 700 workers are involved in the trading activities at the Akhaurah and other checkposts in Tripura. The majority of the workforce, besides drivers and their assistants, have become unemployed,” Habul Biswas, general secretary of the Agartala Exporters-Importers Association, told IANS.
The situation in Bangladesh has also led to the suspension of the Dhaka-Agartala bus service.
“The bus service would be resumed after the situation in Bangladesh returns to normal,” said Rabindra Reang, managing director of Tripura Road Transport Corporation, which operates the service.
After the election commission set Jan 5, 2014, for Bangladesh’s 10th parliamentary elections, major opposition parties have intensified violent agitations across the country, leaving at least 20 people dead.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 18-party alliance, with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami being a major partner, has been engaged in a violent agitation over the past few months, demanding that the polls be held under a neutral caretaker government.
Railway coaches, vehicles and private and government assets have been damaged by the protestors.