February 28, 2022
Involving local communities in cross-border trade and reducing procedural and institutional bottlenecks in inland water transport will increase the potential of bilateral and transit trade between India and Bangladesh as discussed by experts at a virtual dialogue organised by CUTS International.
The transboundary rivers of India and Bangladesh can generate opportunities for the local communities in the sub-region through economic, political and socio-cultural interactions between the two countries. “The agenda on water governance through sustainable basin-wide management must align with the agenda on climate change adaptation and mitigation,” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.
He was speaking in a virtual dialogue ‘Cross-Border Trade and Navigation through Transboundary Inland Waterways between India and Bangladesh’ organised on February 28, 2022 by CUTS International. The dialogue attended by around 35 high-profile dignitaries and stakeholders from India and Bangladesh was organised under a regional programme ‘Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia’ supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and managed by Oxfam Novib.
In his opening remarks Jyotiraj Patra, Project Manager, TROSA, Oxfam said that inclusive cross border trade and tourism through waterways will create employment opportunities for the local communities. Further, he stressed the need for resilient infrastructure to overcome natural and man-made calamities that occur frequently in the Brahmaputra river basin.
“Leveraging history, geography and comparative advantage is the need of the time and in the common interest of the people,” stated Jayant Singh, Vice Chairman, Inland Waterways Authority of India in his address. The Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid project implemented with the support of the World Bank will provide seamless connectivity between National Waterway-1 (NW-1) and NW-2 through the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol routes. He opined that the actual cost and quantum involved in dredging is also coming down.
Commodore Golam Sadeq, Chairman, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said that riverine trade and tourism generate livelihood opportunities at the local level. He shared that 6000 km of waterways in Bangladesh are navigable in all seasons. Additionally, Bangladesh is planning to design and develop flat bottom low draft vessels that can ply during every season. Integrating Jamuna Economic Corridor with the Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid project would expand the trade possibilities between the countries. He argued for the need for synergy and sequencing in the dredging operations upstream and downstream to ensure the water flow.
Syed Monowar Hussain, Former Director, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority highlighted the Protocol for Inland Water Trade & Transit as a unique example of bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh that is being continued without interruptions since Bangladesh’s independence. He emphasised diversifying trade basket for trade to continue on a sustainable basis. A level-playing field for the inland water transport sector can be achieved only by addressing the issues related to border management, customs formalities, loading-unloading facilities and the efficiency of cruise
Deborishi Bhattacharjee a local trader from Karimganj in Assam, India said that cross-border trade through inland waterways has the potential to generate employment in a post-COVID-19 period. With the development of the Karimganj river port, the revival of the Mahishasan railway transit point and the Integrated Check Post at Sutarkandi, Karimganj can connect Bangladesh with the rest of India and with the hinterlands of other north-eastern states.
Atowar Rahman, President, Dhubri Water Ways International Traders Association, India said that inland water transport has benefited the local traders mainly living near the border regions. The development of Dhubri port has led to cross-border and transit trade of stone chips, boulders and coal between India, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The local traders are now focusing on the trade of agricultural products like ginger, oranges and other products such as waste cotton.
“Water governance with regard to inland water transport needs to be more participatory. Ground-level issues faced by the traders need attention. Importance should also be given to the enhancement of livelihood opportunities and participation of local people”, said Anamika Barua, Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.
Concluding the webinar, Veena Vidyadharan, Fellow at CUTS International said that CUTS will take up the challenges faced by the business communities and traders to the authorities through a memorandum.
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