India inks Bangladesh coastal pact to deepen inland waterway reach

India inks Bangladesh coastal pact to deepen inland waterway reach

India considers coastal shipping a bellwether for the development of a more competitive logistics ecosystem. Photo credit: Maersk (India).

India is opening more inland waterway routes for container movement under an updated inland water transit and trade protocol with Bangladesh, designed to bolster cross-border coastal trade over the Bay of Bengal.

The Monday sailing of the MV Maheshwari from Haldia Dock near Kolkata in the state of West Bengal to Pandu, a river terminal near Guwahati in the state of Assam, is the latest effort on that front.

At the inaugural event, Indian Shipping Minister Gopal Krishna called the new service a “landmark” development that blends ongoing government efforts to improve connectivity to the country’s northeastern region.

Traversing India-Bangladesh territorial waters through the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, the 1,425-kilometer (885-mile) stretch comes with an estimated 15-day transit.

“The [protocol] between India and Bangladesh allows mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways for [the] movement of goods between the two countries by vessels of both countries,” India’s Ministry of Shipping said in a statement.  “It [the Haldia-Pandu link] is expected to establish the technical and commercial viability of [inland water transit] mode using these multiple waterways even as a series of pilot movements are planned on the stretch.”

The ministry also said a further joint investment of Rs. 306 crore (approximately $44 million), with India contributing 80 percent, is under way to make the Sirajganj-Daikhawa and Ashuganj-Zakiganj routes navigable as part of the renewed bilateral coastal pact. “The development of these two stretches is expected to provide seamless navigation to and from northeast India through waterways via the [India-Bangladesh Protocol] route,” it said. “The contracts for dredging on the two stretches have been awarded for achieving and maintaining [the] requisite depth.”

Enthusiasm for coastal trade development

The two neighboring countries have been working at a brisk pace to accelerate coastal trade cooperation. During an early October visit by Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi, stakeholders concluded a standard operating procedure for the movement of goods from four Indian points — Agartala (Tripura) via Akhura, Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil, Sutarkandi (Assam) via Sheola, and Srimantpur (Tripura) via Bibir Bazar — to the ports of Chattogram and Mongla in Bangladesh.

Stakeholders said the expanded coverage would be a “win-win” deal for both nations with significant supply chain benefits.

India considers coastal shipping a bellwether for the development of a more competitive logistics ecosystem, one that can offer an alternative solution to the traditional trucking mode fraught with complexities because of inherent road infrastructure inadequacies in the country. The government has also identified value in broadening the coastal reach to more countries in South Asia for regional trade development, with the BIMSTEC [Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan] platform as a country-to-country partnership channel.

Bency Mathew can be contacted at bencyvmathew@gmail.com.