The government has taken many initiatives to bring about massive development in the country’s land port infrastructure, and enhance port efficiency and connectivity to boost cross-border trade and make ports more accessible and hassle-free to users.
As part of that move, six new land ports are scheduled for opening by June 2023. Also, work is underway to develop infrastructure and bring automation to three existing key ports – Benapole, Bhomra, and Burimari.
Three of the six new land ports – Bilonia in Feni, Gobrakura in Mymensingh, and Ramgarh in Khagrachhari – are totally ready to open, said officials concerned, adding that the prime minister may open these ports anytime soon.
The other three under-construction ports – Dhanua-Kamalpur in Jamalpur, Sheola in Beani Bazar, Sylhet, and Balla in Habiganj – are also expected to be ready by the end of this fiscal year, they added.
“About 60% work has been done on each of the three ports. The duration of this project is till next June. Hopefully, these will be completed and can be opened by the time,” said Md Alamgir, chairman of the Bangladesh Land Port Authority.
“The country has 24 declared land ports and 12 of them are currently operational. The new six ports will be added to the functional land ports by June next,” he added.
He expressed hope that the new ports will play a significant role in boosting export-import trade with India through roads, making the transportation of perishable goods faster.
Besides, India will use some of the ports as transits for the transshipment of its goods, which will help to boost the government’s revenue income from ports by manifolds, he noted.
“Employment opportunities will be created for the local people and there will be socio-economic development of the areas adjacent to the ports as well.”
Tk2,906cr project to modernise three ports
The authorities have taken up a project involving Tk2906 crore for infrastructure development, automation, and modernization of the three largest land ports in the country – Bhomra, Burimari, and Benapole – which collectively deal with some 80% of land-based trade in Bangladesh.
The land port authority chairman said, “Benapole land port is very important for us at the moment and also it is the busiest port of the country. Bhomra port in Satkhira is getting busier since the opening of the Padma Bridge and Kolkata is closer to Bhomra port than Benapole.”
Besides, Burimari land port in Lalmonirhat is also important as import and export can be done with India, Bhutan, and Nepal directly by road through the port, he added.
Explaining the reasons for increasing the efficiency of the port, he said, “Movement from those ports has risen manifolds over the years, but the infrastructure has not been developed.
“It has, therefore, become necessary to modernise and develop infrastructure as well as bring automation to the ports to make operations faster and easier by ensuring hassle-free movement of the port users.”
Md Alamgir also expressed hope that the automation will enable faster border crossing times as they will install electronic tracking of truck entry and exit, electronic queuing, and smart parking.
The project will also improve selected road corridors while ensuring a green and climate-resilient construction, he added.
The land port authority chairman said, “The Tk2,906 crore project will be placed before the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in December. Of the total cost, Tk578 crore will come from the government exchequer for land acquisition, and the rest of the money will come from the World Bank as a loan.”
The World Bank will provide the finance under its “Accelerating Transport and Trade Connectivity in Eastern South Asia (ACCESS) Phase-1” programme.
The Land Port Authority has also initiated another project to introduce an E-payment system for all kinds of charges in the ports.
Now one has to go to the bank and deposit the charges which are irritating and time-consuming, said Alamgir, adding, “This system will no longer exist. All types of charges will be paid through the mobile financial service (MFS). Regarding this, we are signing an agreement with bKash this month. Agreements with other MFS providers will also be inked in phases.”
Besides, the authorities have brought the entire Benapole port under CCTV camera surveillance.
“We have set up CCTV cameras in the whole Benapole port to ensure utmost security. And will set up cameras in other ports too”, said Md Alamgir.
He also said that other ports will also come under automation gradually.
Businessmen involved in export and import trade have welcomed the government move.
Mohammad Hatem, executive president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said the new ports will open the door for more cross-border business as well as decrease the pressure on the existing ports. Some of the existing ports are overburdened due to huge pressure.
“Besides, bringing automation in the key land-ports will also give a respite to the exporter-importers. Currently, products need to stay in the queue for 4-5 days to pass through the ports due to a time-consuming manual process. Plus, automation will help to control forgery in the papers.”
“So, both initiatives of the government are appreciated and we want rapid completion of the project,” he continued.
Work on four ports barred by border guards
Besides 18 land ports, the government was building infrastructure for four more land ports – Ramgarh port, Bilonia port, Bibirbazar port, and Sheola port – but the construction work has halted due to objections from the security agencies in the borders of the two countries.
“Our challenge is the 150 yards of no man’s land. Although an agreement was signed so that the land port authorities of the two countries can develop their respective areas, the border forces of both countries barred our work in the name of security.
“We are now talking with the higher authority to resolve the issue,” he added.
On the other hand, construction work on Birol land port has been completed but the Bangladesh authorities cannot launch it as India has not yet completed the link road on their part.
Another land-port – Tegamukh of Rangamati – is under consideration, said the land port authority chairman.
“We are considering the port as it is very important for India. If we build the port, we will be able to earn a lot of revenue from there”, he concluded.