Because of reality reason Speakers at a dialogue on transit have urged the government to become transparent on the issue.
They suggested that it has to be a win-win situation for Bangladesh and India to develop a sustainable and long-term relationship.
The report of the core committee on transit should be made public, they said and added that before making any decision, it should be discussed in public forum rather than keeping it confined to some advisers and bureaucrats.
They also asked the government to make public the deal and core committee report.
These observations were made at a dialogue on “Transhipment or Transit for India?” that was co-organised by International Chamber of Commerce Bangladesh (ICCB) and The Daily Star.
If India is granted transit, its trucks and rails will have passage across Bangladeshi territory to go in and out of its northeastern states, while transhipment refers to the same movement using Bangladeshi means of transport.
“We strongly recommend that the concept of transit be revised and Bangladesh goes for a transhipment agreement to help India gain access to its seven north-eastern states,” said Mahbubur Rahman, president of ICCB.
On reasons against transit, Economist Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said the country is not ready for it yet.
Dr M Rahmatullah, a transport expert and campaigner of regional connectivity, also prefers transhipment over transit for now, considering Bangladesh’s poor infrastructure condition and from an economic point of view.
He said all roads in Bangladesh are two-lane, highly congested and cannot take over 8.2 axle-load. There is no physical link between the railways in Bangladesh and the northeastern Indian states, he added.
“Limited transit through transhipment will be ideal at the moment,” said Rahmatullah, a former director of UNESCAP.
Sohel Ahmed Chowdhury, former commerce secretary, said transhipment is preferable to Bangladesh. “Then we’ll have the control and can develop infrastructure slowly to go for transit,” he added.
Speakers opposed transit to India in the presence of three powerful policymakers. Two are advisers to the prime minister, Gowher Rizvi and Mashiur Rahman, who are believed to be the architects of a new Indo-Bangla relation, while the third is Faruk Khan, commerce minister.
With Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in January 2010, talks have surfaced over Bangladesh allowing transit to India, Nepal and Bhutan. The issues were not discussed in parliament and experts also cannot say whether Bangladesh and India opted for a transit or transhipment agreement.
Analysts and businessmen’s clear mandate to transhipment came as it would also benefit both the countries, and not just India.
“In transhipment, Bangladeshi truckers can transport goods to and from the Indian borders,” said Prof Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
Amjad Khan Chowdhury, chief executive of Pran-RFL Group that has good business with the northeastern Indian provinces, said transhipment is less cost effective than transit.
Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury Parvez, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, “Transhipment is the only mode for us.”
Former Finance Adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said transhipment is favourable as Bangladesh would use its locomotives and vehicles to carry Indian goods.
He, however, questioned, “Are we already in transit?” If that is so, Bangladesh has no choice but to come back from the deal.
He also said transit to Nepal and Bhutan would not benefit Bangladesh as much, as their economies and external trade volumes are small.
Annisul Huq, former president of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said he is totally confused about what is happening between Bangladesh and India as the government is yet to make those public.
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said bilateral relations with India have gone through ups and downs in the past and the region has wasted a lot of time on suspicion and acrimony.
“After many years, relations with India are on track. Now we need to create a set of arrangements, which will be a win-win situation for both of us,” Anam said.
Gowher Rizvi said transit is costlier for Bangladesh than transhipment. But he said transit and transhipment will happen simultaneously.
“None of you use the word connectivity, which we favour. How long can we remain in the past?” he asked.
He assured that India will not be given cost-free transit. The adviser said a core committee formed by the government has completed a study taking into account the economic, social and environmental issues.
“All the estimates made by the core committee or by CPD are based on assumptions,” he said, adding that before determining fees, the government would analyse its returns on investments.
On giving India a corridor facility, he said it is totally irrelevant. “There is no room for the use of the corridor facility to India.”
Mashiur Rahman said Bangladesh and India need to set up a stable transit regime, specifying the methods of monitoring cost data and setting tariff-based on the data consistent with World Trade Organisation rules. He said tariff should be adjusted periodically — once in 2 to 3 years.
“Investment shall follow establishment of a credible stable long term transit regime, and without large investment, the full potential of transit cannot be realised,” said Mashiur.
Faruk Khan said Bangladesh’s interests have fully been protected in the deal with India. “We want to develop regional connectivity, not restrict us.”
On publication of the core committee report, the commerce minister said it is under the government’s consideration. “The sooner the better.”