The government is working to take the country’s land ports to the global standards, with intent to expedite the country’s business activities with neighbouring countries.
To this end, the Bangladesh Land Port Authority (BLPA) under the Ministry of Shipping has been upgrading the infrastructural as well as other capacities of land ports for last several years, to make them vibrant.
BLPA sources said the country’s land ports could become regional as well as Asian trade and commerce hubs in the forthcoming years. So, they were now focusing on building automated, international standard land ports.
Currently, almost all the country’s formal trade activities through land routes are with India, but might be extended to other neighbouring countries soon as the country’s trade and commerce are expanding at a faster rate, they said.
However, the ports, except for Benapole, have remained nearly unutilised as the country’s traders have little interest in using them.
Currently, 11 land ports out of 22 are in operation across the country. Of them, six are being operated by BLPA and the remaining five are under build-operate-transfer (BOT), a private system.
The other land ports in operation are Burimari, Hili, Sonamasjid, Akhaura, Bhomra, Bibirbazar, Banglabanda, Tekhnaf, Tamabil and Nakugaon. Out of the 11, ten ports are located on the Indian border, and Teknaf on the border with Myanmar.
BLPA sources said, the remaining ports would be brought into operation gradually, and two are awaiting official inauguration.
Meanwhile, BLPA sources said, almost 75 percent of the total export-import operations through land routes between Bangladesh and India are operated through Benapole, the country’s second largest port after Chattogram sea port.
Due to huge pressure, the port authority is incapable to provide swift services to business.
Besides, security measures at Benapole are also still poor, claimed traders while expressing concern.
However, BLPA sources said, geographically the Benapole port is located in a municipal area, and that is why it is impossible for it to have a boundary. So, it is a challenge to establish regularity here.
Sources said, about 3000 people engaged in business activities both from Bangladesh and India, use the port daily. So, it is very tough for both immigration, and port authorities to ensure tight security and services from this boundary-less port.
Besides, due to excessive pressure, the customs authority also faces hurdles in discharging consignments on time.
Meshkat Ahmed Chowdhury, member for development of BLPA told Bangladesh Post: “We have established many well-developed land ports for the sake of making the country’s business activities vibrant, but we can’t control what business will use what port; it’s their own matter.”
The port authority holds discussions with business communities and takes opinions before building of each port, but they are now reluctant to use those ports, BLPA sources said.
Many syndicates of Clearing and Forwarding agents (C&F) also play pivotal roles in controlling and determining use of port matter, they said.
However, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry president M Shafiul Islam Mahiuddin told Bangladesh Post, traders generally use ports that are affordable to operate their export or import activities. Here, there is no bias to using any specific port.”
“The traders usually use such ports which are convenient for their trade. But some other ports except for Benapole are also being used currently to a large extent, exemplifying that reconditioned cars are now being imported through Banglabandha port.”
Meantime, at least 18 Indian Customs stations against Bangladesh’s 22 land ports have meagre infrastructure, a bar to continuing smooth business operations, sources said.
Though customs and immigration buildings are in place at some stations, the infrastructure including weight-measurement bridges, warehouses, and transportation facilities are quite insignificant.
Sources said, India’s Hili station against Bangladesh’ Hili port, Mahadipur station against Bangladesh’ Sonamasjid, Gede station against Darshana, Chengrabandha against Burimari, Gojadanga against Bhomra, Haldibari against Chilahati, and many other Indian customs stations have meagre infrastructural equipment to operate trade activities.
Meshkat Ahmed Chowdhury, however, told this reporter that on their part, they urged the Indian authority to improve the infrastructural conditions to boost bilateral trade through land ports, and they are now developing their land port facilities along the Bangladesh border.
“Besides, as per the Bangladesh-India bilateral trade relation, India is the export-oriented country and that is why they have lower interest in improving port facilities on their part,” he said.
Based on the urgency for technology-based service, the BLPA has been working on the introduction of automation, sources said.
With World Bank and Asian Development Bank fund, automation at all land ports will be implemented gradually, BLPA sources said.