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More rice for Tripura via Bangladesh?

By The Assam Tribune

Agartala, Nov 7 (IANS): The Indian government may ferry another 35,000 tonnes of rice for Tripura via Bangladesh as train services in the northeastern States have been stopped till March 2016 due to gauge conversion, a minister said here on Friday.

Train services in Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam have been suspended from Oct 1 for track conversion from meter gauge to broad gauge being undertaken by the Northeast Frontier Railways and scheduled to end March 2016.

Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha told reporters: "The Indian government is holding talks with Bangladesh government to transport another 35,000 tonnes of rice for Tripura via Bangladesh."

He said: "Tripura government has urged the central government to carry rice for the state regularly via Bangladesh till the railway's gauge conversion works are completed."

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) recently ferried 10,000 tonnes of rice in two phases from Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh via Bangladesh.

"Several ships carried the rice from Visakhapatnam port to Kolkata port, then to Ashuganj port in (eastern) Bangladesh. From Ashuganj port, Bangladeshi trucks ferried the rice to FCI warehouses in Nandannagar near Agartala," FCI official Nilanjan Chowdhury told IANS.

Ashuganj port over the Meghna river in eastern Bangladesh is around 40 km from Agartala.

Saha said: "The rice is being ferried via Bangladesh to avoid the long and mountainous surface road to Tripura via Assam and Meghalaya."

The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on Punjab, Haryana and other bigger states in India for foodgrains and essential commodities.

The Indian government has also floated bids to import rice from Myanmar for Manipur and Mizoram.

Following diplomatic parleys, the Bangladesh government in the first phase agreed to transport 10,000 tonnes of foodgrains for Tripura across its territory without charging any duty under a special transit facility.

Earlier in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes through Ashuganj port for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.

The Indian government had spent several millions of rupees to develop the Ashuganj port and related infrastructure.

After Tripura, it is likely that foodgrains will be ferried in a similar way to other northeastern states, the FCI official said.

The transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as road connectivity is a big factor for the mountainous northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China.

There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern region from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles, especially loaded trucks, very difficult.

For instance, Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.

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