When incessant rains in Assam triggered mudslides that washed away railway tracks in the state’s Dima Hasao district on 16 May and snapped road communication as well, Tripura stared at weeks of acute hardships.
The landlocked northeastern state is completely dependent on rail and road links through Assam for getting all its supplies — foodstuff, fuel, medicines, clothes and all other needs. Thus, when the mid-May natural disasters snapped those links in Assam, Tripura stared at crippling shortages of all commodities, including lifesaving drugs.
That has been Tripura’s curse all these decades since Independence. Incessant rains and floods, quite common in Assam, often cut off road and rail links in the state, causing acute distress to neighbouring states. This has been an annual phenomena and Tripura’s hapless residents have been undergoing the resultant acute hardships every year.
But things have started changing. Thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of using transport links — roads, waterways and rail — through Bangladesh for movement of cargo and passenger traffic to and from the northeastern states, Tripura is no longer dependent on roads and rail lines passing through disaster-prone Assam for its needs.
Thus, when railway lines were swept away by mudslides in neighbouring Assam about four weeks ago, the authorities in Tripura were not very alarmed. They quickly got in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. MEA officials then got in touch with Bangladeshi authorities.
“Bangladesh immediately agreed to help us and allowed use of its territory to transport goods to our state. We were running desperately short of LPG and discussed the matter with senior Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) executives in Guwahati. Bangladesh agreed to our request to allow transportation of two LPG bullets through its land routes,” Tripura Food & Civil Supplies Minister Manoj Kanti Deb told Swarajya from Agartala.
After getting Bangladesh’s consent, IOC authorities in Guwahati despatched two LPG bullets (each of more than 300 MT) by road through Meghalaya and the land border at Dawki to Bangladesh. The LPG bullets, mounted on two large trucks, travelled through Sylhet, Fenchuganj and Rajnagar to enter Tripura through Kailashahar.
The distance between Dawki (the town in Meghalaya along the Indo-Bangladeshi border) and Kailashahar in Tripura through Bangladesh is about 136 kilometres and takes under five hours.
“In less than 10 hours, the two LPG bullets had reached Kailashahar from Guwahati through this route,” said minister Deb.
The distance between Guwahati and Dawki is 176 km and that between Kailashahar and Tripura’s capital Agartala is 139 km. Thus, the distance between Guwahati and Agartala through Bangladesh is only 451 km.
Executive Director of IOC’s Assam Oil Division (AOD), G Ramesh, said that after the devastation in Dima Hasao district that snapped rail communication, the company was planning to use the land route through Meghalaya and then Barak Valley to transport LPG and petroleum products to Agartala.
That land route, which is prone to frequent landslides and resultant blockages, is a long one of nearly 600 km. The condition of that highway is also not very good and, as a result, it takes more than 24 hours for a truck to travel from Guwahati to Agartala.
“The route through Bangladesh is shorter and the conditions of roads in Bangladesh are very good. So it makes much more sense to send LPG bullets and oil tankers from Assam to Tripura, and also to Mizoram and Manipur, through Bangladesh. There is considerable savings in cost and time,” said Ramesh.
The two LPG bullets reached Tripura last week. Minister Deb said that Bangladesh has agreed to allow use of its land, rail and waterways to transport goods from Assam and Bengal to other states of the region. The Food Corporation of India (FCI), he added, will start using the Bangladesh route to send foodgrains from its depots in Assam to Tripura.
Secretary of Tripura’s Food and Civil Supplies Department, Saradindu Choudhury, said that though the road link between Tripura and Assam is open now, floods disrupt that link nearly every year. “It is good that the option to get goods via Bangladesh is now open to us,” he said.
This is not the first time, however, that IOC has used the Bangladesh route to send its products to Tripura from Assam. In August-September 2016, when floods and landslides in Assam and Meghalaya damaged National Highway 6 in Assam’s Barak Valley and rendered it unusable, IOC transported seven tankers carrying 84,000 litres of kerosene and diesel from Guwahati to Tripura through Bangladesh.
A senior MEA official told Swarajya that Bangladesh had agreed in principle to allow use of its land, rail and waterways to transport goods from Assam to Tripura and Mizoram. “This overland route through Bangladesh will be kept open as an option to transport goods. A separate protocol for this is being prepared,” he said.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Saha said that in the past, people of his state had no option but to suffer from severe shortages of food, fuel and even lifesaving drugs due to disruption of road and rail links through Assam. “The Congress and CPI(M) governments in Tripura never made any attempt to explore the option of using the Bangladesh route to get goods to Tripura and ease the terrible sufferings of the people. They never had the welfare of the common people at heart,” he said.
Similarly, said the Tripura Chief Minister, successive federal governments at the Centre also never even thought of opening transit links through Bangladesh. “Only Prime Minister Modi has displayed that sagacity and vision to frame agreements with Bangladesh allowing use of its roads, rail and waterways for movement of cargo and even people. The severe disadvantage that northeastern states used to suffer from on account of being landlocked is being overcome now,” he said.
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