Dhaka: Traders bear the brunt, as three-day long nationwide shutdown in Bangladesh has hit the cross-border trade with India.
Supporters of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League protested against the opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Saturday (November 30) for enforcing 72-hour nationwide blockade as the latter demand postponement of upcoming general elections.
Meanwhile, the truck drivers in Siliguri town of eastern West Bengal, carrying goods to be delivered on the other side of the border, said they depend on the daily trade for their livelihood and due to shutdown in the neighboring Bangladesh, they have become immobile.
“We have come here from Islampur (a town in Uttar Dinajpur district in eastern West Bengal) to go to Bangladesh. But since most of the time the Bangladesh border is closed it is becoming really difficult for us. How will we do our work? We are stranded here for three to four days and sometimes we do not even get food. Now we have been waiting since the past four days now again they have announced a shutdown, which will get the goods?” said a truck driver, Bhola.
Supporters of Bangladesh’s opposition party on November 28, threw homemade bombs and lit fires on the third day of a planned nationwide protest against upcoming elections.
The Election Commission announced on November 25, that elections would be held on January 05.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) wanted to postpone the announcement until after an agreement had been reached on the formation of a caretaker cabinet to oversee the election.
The dispute over the conduct of the election has led to the deaths of dozens in protests and a series of strikes over recent weeks.
The BNP has rejected any attempt to hold an election until it is satisfied a neutral interim administration is in place without Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Along with the more three transit borders of North Bengal, Fulbari nearest from Siliguri under Jalpaiguri district of West-Bengal has been the worst affected by the strike.
The strike has adversely affected the truck drivers, problems such as loading and unloading of goods and delivery on time has become difficult.
“We face a lot of problems due to the border shutdown. Our trucks are on instalment and whenever we come this side we are asked to wait either for two days or four days and sometimes it extends to a week also,” said another truck driver, Shantaram.
Currently Bangladesh imports products worth more than $4 billion from India while India imports products worth less than $1 billion, annually.
Tariff concessions granted by India to Bangladesh under SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) (as SAARC LDC) include a zero-duty market access for all, but 480 items in the sensitive list. India had further increased the duty-free access to 10 million pieces of readymade garments (RMG) from Bangladesh every year.
India is upgrading seven main borders Land Customs Stations (LCS) as Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) at a total cost of rupees 467 crores (rupees 4.67 billion). ICPs will have facilities for immigration, customs, parking, banks, warehousing, quarantine, fuelling etc.
The measure will help improve trade with Bangladesh across West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
Bilateral investment will be facilitated by the recent conclusion of the ‘Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement’ and ‘Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation’ between the two countries.
It is hoped that Bangladesh investments in India will increase with easing of local currency transfer restrictions.
Given the geographical proximity, warm and friendly ties, availability of workforce and investment-supportive atmosphere, the quantum of Indian investment and trade with Bangladesh is further expected to improve for mutual benefit.