There was no movement of trucks or goods at the country’s biggest land port, Petrapole, on the Bangladesh border in West Bengal, for the third consecutive day on Wednesday even as Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to state Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha on Tuesday, asking the state to open the land port and send a report to the Centre.
In its letter to the state on May 5, the Home Ministry stated that this “unilateral decision” to close the landport is hampering the country’s “legally binding international commitments”.
The MHA also stated that the state is violating the Centre’s guidelines that movement of goods trucks cannot be stopped.
Movement of trucks across the border in Petrapole checkpost in Bongaon, in North 24 Parganas district, less than 90 km from Kolkata, was stopped on Monday following protests, primarily by Trinamool Congress-backed labour unions and local villagers. They had voiced apprehension of coronavirus spreading from Bangladeshi labourers to Indian truck drivers and their helpers.
Petrapole checkpost had reopened on April 30, more a month after being closed due to the lockdown. Only 20 trucks were unloaded before movement of goods from the Indian side was halted again on May 4.
Reminding West Bengal of its April 24 order to allow cross-land border transportation of essential goods through the country’s borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, the MHA stated that a compliance report from the state has still not been received.
The MHA wrote, “…the unilateral action… to stop the cross land border movement of essential goods would have larger implications for the Indian government with regard to its legally binding international commitments…”
Kartik Chakraborty, secretary of Petrapole Clearing Agents Staffs’ Welfare Association, said, “…There is fear of infection spreading from Bangladesh. Instead of writing letters, the Centre and the state should… find a solution.”
Gopal Seth, TMC leader and mentor of North 24 Parganas Zilla Parishad, said: “Bongaon is safe from infection, and the people fear a spread (if movement of trucks restart).” —Inputs by Ravik Bhattacharya in Kolkata