April 29, 2021
Easing of security, custom, immigration and health procedures would lead to increased cross-border river cruise tourism on trans-boundary rivers of India and Bangladesh as discussed by experts at a webinar organised by CUTS International.
“Cross-border tourism and trade through trans-boundary rivers between India and Bangladesh is poised to play a significant role in the socio-economic development of local communities and environmental and cultural preservation in India and Bangladesh,” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.
“Sustainable cross-border river-based tourism will increase if we critically focus on three elements – infrastructure development, right and easy regulations, and public awareness”, he added.
He was moderating a public-private dialogue on India-Bangladesh cross-border tourism and cruise operations organised by CUTS International. It was organised on 29th April 2021 was attended by more than 75 stakeholders from the two countries.
It was organised as part of a regional programme titled “Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia” (TROSA), which is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), managed by Oxfam Novib and implemented by CUTS International, among other partners.
In her special address, Amita Prasad, Chairperson, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) said that India is being developed as a cruise shipping destination with cooperation with Bangladesh as part of Maritime India Vision 2030.
“India-Bangladesh Protocol Routes are promoted to connect the tourist places along the banks of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and other important rivers shared between India and Bangladesh”, she said.
She added that Standard Operating Procedures for passenger and cruise services on coastal and protocol routes between India and Bangladesh have been signed on 25th October 2018. Two cruises between Dhaka and Kolkata have been completed along the Protocol Route till now.
She further highlighted that river cruise tourism would generate employment to the local communities of both the countries in the form of cruise crew, jetty operators, language translator, local tourist guide, local cultural artists, small boat operators and local food joints by women etc.
“However, to enhance this initiative there is a need to ease the security arrangements, immigration procedures for passengers and crew, custom clearances and health clearances for all the foreign tourists.”
Concurring with Dr Prasad, Commodore Golam Sadeq, Chairperson, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said that river tourism has a lot of economic opportunities as this is one of the unique deltas in the world.
“Regulatory issues are being resolved, now the private sector should act vigorously and start marketing once the COVID -19 crisis is under control”, he added.
“Bangladesh has a river-based lifestyle and hence can attract tourists from Western countries. Be it the life of peple living in boats or Hilsa fishing during the monsoon, river tourism has exciting things to offer.”
According to Taufiq Rahman, Chief Executive, Journey Plus, Bangladesh, the Covid-19 pandemic has destroyed the tourism sector and the only solution for survival is regional, small haul, and cross-border tourism.
“One thing we should remember is that such tourism is not just confined to the cruise alone, but people also want to see historical places, local communities and want to participate in the water-related activities. For example, Kayaking and other maritime sports, visit the local bazaar, historical forts and palaces, and heritage walk. This is one thing that is still lacking. “We should also think about establishing a maritime museum”, he added including proposing Hemnagar on the India-Bangladesh border in the Sundarbans as an immigration point,
Speaking on the occasion, Raj Singh, Director, M/S Heritage River Cruises Pvt. Ltd said that river tourism has a lot to offer for local communities. It can take tourists to places that are not accessible by road, it provides opportunities for folk dancers and artisans, including women.
He also stressed the opportunities in shorter routes owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. He suggested having modern jetties, sustainable and technologically advanced ships, noise-free silencers, oil separators and pollution-free shores for sustainable river cruise tourism.
Narrating the glory of northeast India, Samudra Gupta Kashyap, State Information Commissioner, Assam said that most of the tourist and old cities in northeast India are on the banks of the river. He suggested creating a partnership with media and new age travel writers who can write on various aspects of the Brahmaputra river and explore stories to promote river tourism. Furthermore, he emphasised exploring other minor transboundary rivers for tourism purpose.
“River cruise is a niche tourism area, the question is how we can utilize the resources in this part of the world?”, said Biswajit Chakrabarty, Director, Northeast Advisory Council, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
He argued that while at present the focus is only on the Protocol Routes, there are many smaller trans-boundary rivers. Domestic tourists may like to go there. He also suggested that the private sector should be made part of developing port facilities, and provided more funding in the development of the tourism sector and river cruise operations.
Delivering the Vote of Thanks, Enamul Mazid Khan Siddique, Head of Climate Justice and Natural Resource Rights, Oxfam Bangladesh, emphasised the value of such multi-stakeholder partnership in strengthening cross-border tourism between India and Bangladesh through trans-boundary rivers.
He stressed that such dialogues on tourism and rivers needs to include the grass-root communities and local tribes in the discussion so that they can provide services and protect their rights. Such collaboration is also important for the preservation of nature, culture and heritage in both countries.
Concluding the webinar, Bipul Chatterjee said that the idea is to generate knowledge and focus on not just big rivers like Brahmaputra and Ganges but also several smaller trans-boundary rivers.
He further stressed that it is time to expand this kind of initiative by involving regulatory agencies, a private sector not just big vessel operators but also small vessel operators and media. This will provide a win-win situation for everybody and ensure the sustainability of the economy, ecology and society.
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