Transit: Opportunity or threat?
Friday August 31 2012 14:23:15 PM BDT
By Dr. Afzalur Rahman
While the government of Bangladesh is dedicated to providing transit services to India, the people are anxious as of numerous whys and wherefores. Internal politics of Bangladesh has been divided on the issue related to the developments, regarding the unhindered transportation of goods between Indian cities especially from the Kolkata to Tripura by using the roads and river transportation system of Bangladesh.
India has been asking Bangladesh for transit since the earlier 90’s. Today the possibility of having transit facility for India is actually on the verge of reality. However, there are innumerable questions hovering around the issue of transit that will not make it an easy decision for Bangladesh government to grant the transit to India. The process of transit will not be possibly occurring until all the irritants between India and Bangladesh are resolved. Also there is little possibility for Bangladesh to achieve optimum benefits from the transit. The proposal made by India to use the port of Ashuganj and Chittagong has triggered controversies and uncertainties.
The previous Prime Minister and current opposition leader Khaleda Zia articulated her trepidation very lately on October 27 last year that by providing transit to India, the existing government is trying to turn Bangladesh into another ‘Sikkim’. The governing party as well as the pro-Indian Lobby in Bangladesh would illustrate this accusation as one more groundless ‘anti-Indian upsurge’ via Khaleda Zia; nevertheless in authenticity she has merely specified opinion to the apprehensions of some Bangladeshi citizens. Meanwhile the transit subjects have countless wrinkle allegations, counting national welfares and sovereign status as per a state, it is authoritative to acquire a strong or vibrant image of the matters tangled and similarly by what means we can reply to the encounters forced from external but with the involvement and associations of a segment of the presiding government.
Why India requires transit amenities?
Cost effective entry to the Northeast states
It is a terrestrial realism that Bangladesh is ‘India locked’ as it is enclosed on three edges by Indian terrains. On similar logic, the northeast states such as Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura of India are ‘Bangladesh locked’. The purported ‘Chicken's Neck’ unraveling Bangladesh and Nepal is the lone thin strip of terrestrial about 24 km in breadth that attaches West Bengal and mainland India through the northeast states. Carriage of goods and people over the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ is actually very exclusive and time overwhelming. This delays India’s entry to the resource-rich northeast. Transit amenities over Bangladesh would be tranquil, less time consuming while there will be less expenditure by saving two-thirds of the present cost of India which is US$100 billion.
Eradicating NE Rebellion extortions
India has been struggling rebellion activities in the north east province for quite some time. Populates living in these zones are historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally dissimilar from persons living in mainland India. These people have continuously valued their liberation and conducted numerous fights as well as armed fights to recognise their rights. These skirmishes are ongoing even nowadays. India contemplates these actions dangerous to its territorial integrity and safety, desiring to overpower them at any price. Movement of armed people and transport of weaponries over Bangladesh would be much at ease for India to defeat these revolution intimidations.
Forearmed against military conflict with China
India has venerable provincial disparities with China, in the northwest and northeast regions of the Himalayan mountain array. In the northeast, the argument over Arunachal Pradesh (which the Chinese call Zhangnan or South Tibet) is still unsolved. Whether the subject matter would be stable cordially and peacefully cannot be predicted, but India is not taking any probabilities. It has been firming up its defense and offense readiness in these provinces for ages, particularly after the dreadful 1962 border war with China. In recent years, India has been assigning vast resources for the transformation and development of its armed forces. In the northeast, strategies are being applied to enlarge the current competences by increasing an additional 100,000 armed forces with two divisions for mountain conflict and special operations.
Entry to Myanmar market
Myanmar, located to the east and south east of both Bangladesh and India, is full of natural resources including oil and gas both on the land and in the ocean. It has also incredible prospects for harnessing hydroelectric power. For these resources and also for tactical motives, straight contacts and entry to Myanmar is very vital to both China and India, the two financial or economic and military giants of Asia. China at present has straight terrestrial routes to Myanmar, but India has nothing of this calibre. India desires to counterbalance this drawback by having straight terrestrial routes from its northeast to Myanmar.
None of these necessities as well as India’s geo-strategic desires in the East can be achieved without a widespread transit arrangement through Bangladesh.
Transit with India: benefits and risks
In the form of transports like trucks and freight trains and usage of the Chittagong and Mongla port of Bangladesh, Indian carriers are needed to pay sums of transit fee every time they use the passage through Bangladesh. It is reported by BBC news that the transit route through Akhaura border post only could be worth a billion dollars once Indian trucks use Bangladesh as passage to their north eastern wing of India.
It is believed that once the transit is agreed many backward areas of Bangladesh will be benefitted due to the route of the transit. Investment in road and railway communication may develop along remote parts of the country through which the trucks or freight trains will pass. Apart from the development of road and rail communication, businesses like residential hotels, restaurants, shops may open up alongside these newly built roads for the transit of Indian goods through Bangladesh.
It is believed that transit will open up new business which will create employment beside the transit route which will eventually benefit the neglected regions and help in the development of those regions by improving their lifestyle. Transit can create scope for Bangladesh traders as well as businesses to get access to Indian market through the same route to do business which they could not perform or get access easily earlier. It can be the doorway to reach markets of Nepal and Bhutan of the South Asian region where Bangladeshi goods have huge demand.
Transit fee can be used to construct new roads and highways and improve the current infrastructure to support the transit of Indian goods trucks and freights to pass through and which can also be used by Bangladeshi freight vehicles. Besides roads and highways in the development list, the seaports and rail lines may be developed to provide transit access which will eventually benefit Bangladesh and its people.
Mongla and Chittagong port which is mostly unused at the moment can be made to run in maximum capacity with the allowance of transit to Indian products through Bangladesh and through this process Bangladesh may earn more money and further use this extra money to develop the ports infrastructure into an international standard port. Moreover, many argue that transit can be used as a tool to resolve many disputed treaties between the two neighbors, especially Bangladesh may use this tool to resolve the border and maritime disputes it has with neighbour India.
Some quarters argue that the transit may bring in some low points for Bangladesh also. To begin with, the transit may cost Bangladesh government a huge sum of money to invest in its infrastructure. About US$10 billion in investment is needed to get the highways and roads in proper order for the Indian trucks to ply on these.
Many are skeptical of how much transit fee the government will charge for the passage of Indian trucks through Bangladesh. There is a risk of under charging the transit fee and Bangladesh may end up being the loser.
A lot of Bangladeshi businesses are worried that formal and informal businesses that they do with the north eastern part of India will diminish as Indian goods will get easy access to the region. Moreover, the transit of Bangladeshi goods to Nepal and Bhutan will not do much benefit to Bangladeshi businesses as they have a very small market in these countries.
The petroleum prices between both the nations are not same. So, Indian trucks may enter Bangladesh to refuel them and use up a huge quantity of petroleum leading to its shortage, forcing Bangladesh to import further petroleum. This will exert pressure on the foreign exchange reserve.
There is a great risk of smuggling of goods into Bangladesh without payment of proper tax and the market will be overwhelmed with goods from India which will cause Bangladeshi businesses to suffer financially.
A potential security risk of Bangladesh exists due to the possibility of drugs and arms to be smuggled into in huge quantity. Moreover, the flooding of drugs may damage the youth of our country severely.
The increase of HIV/Aids patients may triple or quadruple due to the Indian truck drivers as they are notoriously famous of HIV/Aids carriers.
Security threats from separatist rebels like United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) attacks can’t be ruled out as they may see Bangladesh helping India to carry weapons and arms to strengthen the north eastern region of India.
The people of Bangladesh must hold upon the government and all the opposition political parties for harmony on dynamic national issues, particularly while it arises to defend the national welfares and sovereignty from overseas force and control. Simply this union will reinforce country’s negotiating situation with India and other countries and safeguard the fact that Bangladesh does not convert into a ‘satellite state’ of India or undergo the fate of ‘Sikkim’. The economic and social welfares of Bangladesh over permitting transit to India need to be very transparent to the people of Bangladesh. Till this is completed, unfriendly inspired people will endure to misguide public through publicity and make it tremendously tough for the politicians. Still, as a motion of generosity, through the common endorsement of terms and conditions on situation to situation basis, Bangladesh may approve to offer opening through its terrain non-commercial cargoes, merchandises and equipment concerning any public sector mission for trade and economic growth.
The writer is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at East West University
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