A potential Eid gift for the northeast region (NER) of India came from Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 28 as India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called on her in Dhaka.
Prime Minister Hasina offered to make available the Chittagong Port for usage by India in connecting India’s NER with the rest of the country.
The offer is very pertinent in terms of connectivity, and it is also important when it comes to the cultural and tourism perspectives.
Historically, the Chittagong port was the major port for connectivity of an undivided India and particularly what comprises the NER of India today.
In the colonial era, the Chittagong Port was one of the largest ports of eastern India through which cargo was carried to the borders of Myanmar through railways and roadways.
During the Second World War, Chittagong Port was considered extremely important in supporting the Allied forces.
The communities in NER that share culture and traditions with Chittagong, especially the Chittagong Hill Tracts region.
Much of that also came out during the recent visit of Bangladesh Commerce minister Tipu Munshi to the state of Mizoram.
Where trade routes via waterways and hills were also explored, including the setting up of border haats and an ICP in Thegamukh, Bangladesh.
Since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, regular bilateral engagements have occurred in the first three decades as relations were stabilized despite a few years of ups and downs.
The focus on trade and commerce naturally brought attention to Chittagong Port in Bangladesh and the Tamu and Sittwe Port in Myanmar.
In the last few years, India and Bangladesh have signed and initiated several projects which ultimately brought India’s NER into the limelight even from the Bangladesh perspective.
The 2009 India and Bangladesh Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, the India and Bangladesh Agreement of Coastal Shipping in 2015.
An Asian Development Bank (ADB) briefing from July 2021 stated that using Chittagong Port as a trans-shipment hub is economical for India for the transportation to and from NER.
Also, the shorter road distance between Chittagong Port and Agartala, as compared to the Kolkata Port to Agartala through Siliguri corridor.
Would help in reducing the transportation cost greatly, which can hugely benefit India’s trade and commerce corridor.
The time it takes for the transportation to go through would also be reduced by several days.
In the near future, railway connections will be taken further down to Sabroom which is a town just 111km away from Chittagong Port.
At the same time, through Sutarkandi in Assam, which is one of the only two existing functional Integrated Check Posts (ICP) in NER after Akhaura in Tripura.
There will be an alternate access to Chittagong Port via Sylhet. The direct connection between Sutarkandi to Chittagong port is about 400km.
With two new ICPs under construction in Meghalaya and Mizoram, the connection between NER and Bangladesh will only get better from here on in.
This will provide further opportunities for the use of the Chittagong Port, not just as a connection for India’s NER.
But also extend to the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan through the NER and West Bengal.
Earlier in March this year, a meeting was held between Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, with Bhutan as an observer, to discuss the cargo protocols under the BBIN-MVA.
The focus on connectivity definitely enhances the prospects of Chittagong Port as a major hub for India’s NER.
In the upcoming days, when all the trade points around the region start to get into action taking advantage of the multi-modal capacity-building being undertaken.
Regional connectivity will only advance even further. Clearly this can be seen as a lesson for regional connectivity in South Asia.