The government is conducting a feasibility study to look into the possibility of opening up the Ashuganj River Port for direct entry of Indian cargo vessels as some powerful investors of that country are lobbying hard for it, sources said.
"We have been conducting the feasibility study as per the demand made by the Indian parties," said a high official of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), refusing to be named.
He said if any cargo enters through the Chittagong Port, the government receives revenue as per international standards. But when the cargo will directly enter at the Ashuganj River Port from Kolkata, the government will receive less revenue, as it is an inland water transportation hub.
But, the Indian north-eastern states are already using this route via the Chittagong port as the importers and exporters of those regions prefer using this Bangladeshi territory to reduce transportation cost.
"If we allow the Indian traders to use Bhairab to Indian Karimganj river routes, the cargo will enter directly into Bangladesh from Kolkata at Ashuganj point. Then, they will not use the Chittagong port," he said.
The BIWTA sources said they are also considering the dredging of the river route from Gudagari to Rajshahi to facilitate the Indian traders to carry the goods as it has already lost navigability.
Meanwhile, in fiscal 2004-05, a total of 413,832 tonnes of goods, compared with 183,553 tonnes in fiscal 2003-04, were carried both by the Bangladeshi and Indian cargo vessels, said an official of the Protocol Business Cell of the BIWTA.
In fiscal 2004-05 Bangladeshi cargo vessels carried 376,839 tonnes compared with 121,926 tonnes in fiscal 2003-04, the BIWTA official said, adding that the Indian cargo vessels carried goods 36,993 tonnes and 61,627 tonnes respectively during the same time.
A total of 616 single trips were made both by the Bangladeshi- and the Indian-owned vessels in fiscal 2004-05, which was 246 in fiscal 2003-04.
Of the total trips, 571 were made by the Bangladeshi cargo vessels while 45 trips were made by the Indian cargo vessels, the officials said.
The cargo vessels of the both countries carried cement, paper, boulder, jute, coal, fly ash, foodgrain, CI sheet, sugar, rice, gypsum, manganese ore and other products during this period of time, the BIWTA officials said.
Among the traded goods, cement topped the list as the export of this construction material by the Bangladeshi businesses has recently increased to the Indian seven sisters.
The source further said if any trader of India wants to supply goods to its north-eastern states from Kolkata through the Indian territory, he will need to cross 2600km which is both time-consuming and highly costly.
On the other hand, if the Indian traders use the Bangladesh territory, they will need to cross 1300km, which is just half the distance that needs to be covered.
At present, the cargo vessels of India enter Bangladesh from the Indian state of West Bengal and Doikhawa points through Angtihara and Roymongal river ports to reach the Indian seven sisters' region like Assam and Dhubri.