Saturday, Nov 22, 2014

With only rail route shut, Tripura to get foodgrain via Bangladesh

A view of the collapsed wooden bridge over the Howrah river in Agartala on Sunday. (PTI) A view of the collapsed wooden bridge over the Howrah river in Agartala on Sunday. (PTI)
Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwhati | Posted: June 23, 2014 12:23 am

Landlocked Tripura is set to get its foodgrain supply from mainland India through sea, land and river routes via Bangladesh.

Such a move was necessitated with the monsoon rain lashing the state will be likely a six-month ‘mega block’ of the only rail link between Guwahati and Agartala from October.

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) will send 10,000 tonne of foodgrain — rice and wheat — as a pilot from Andhra Pradesh to Tripura via Bangladesh. The transportation is likely to take two weeks and if the “experiment works well”, then the process will continue for eight months.

Saumitra Bandopadhyaya, special secretary and director of food and civil supplies in the Tripura government, said the Ministry of External Affairs has already worked out the formalities with the Bangladesh regime to carry out smooth movement of the first consignment of 10,000 metric tonne of foodgrain.

“Once this experiment works well, we will be able to move our requirement through Bangladesh till the Lumding-Badarpur broad guage conversion work is completed by March-April 2015,” Bandopadhyaya told The Indian Express over phone.

The consignment will move in two barges from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh by sea route and arrive at the Ashuganj river port on Meghna in Bangladesh, from where the foodgrain will be loaded on trucks bound to Agartala across the International Border check point at Akhaura, only 10 km from the Tripura capital.

The transhipment, however, will be a daunting task, especially in the last leg from Ashuganj to Agartala.
“Though Bangladesh government has deployed trucks to transport the foodgrain, the fact remains that trucks in that country are bigger than those plying on our roads. While Bangladeshi trucks are of 25-30 tonne capacity, those that ply on our roads are only of 12-15 tonne capacity. Moreover, the police will have to work overtime providing security cover to the trucks inside our territory as they move from Akhaura to the FCI godowns in Agartala,” he said.

Tripura, which requires 33,000 metric tonne of foodgrain — of which about 1,600 to 1,700 tonne is wheat and the rest is rice —every month, has to transport the entire bulk from the FCI godowns in Guwahati and Lumding through the metre-guage Lumding-Agartala rail link. The Lumding-Badarpur section, built in the mid-19th century by the British, and popularly called the Hill Section, is the most treacherous, particularly when monsoon rain causes landslides. The Hill Section is being relaid and converted into broad guage, with the railways announcing a “mega block” from October to March 2015, during which they plan to complete the conversion.

Bangladesh had, in 2012, allowed Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and cargo through Ashuganj port for the 726-MW power plant at Palatana in south Tripura.

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