India begins work on bridge linking northeast to Chittagong

Agartala, June 11 (IANS) India started work on building a bridge over the Feni river in Tripura to ferry heavy machines and goods to and from the northeastern states and the rest of India via Bangladesh through the Chittagong international port, top official said here on Saturday.

The Bangladesh government has earlier agreed to allow India to use the Chittagong port, about 72 km from Tripura’s southern border town of Sabroom.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina jointly laid the foundation stone of the bridge during the former’s two-day visit to Dhaka on June 6-7, 2015.

“India has completed preliminary work including making detailed project report to build the bridge in Tripura to access Chittagong port to carry goods and heavy machineries for the northeast region,” Tripura’s Public Works Department (PWD) National Highway wing Chief Engineer Dipak Ranjan Das told reporters.

“The DPR after some modification would be resubmitted to the Road Transport and Highways Ministry (MoRTH) next week for release of funds,” Das said.

The official said New Delhi would build the double-lane bridge and approach roads both in Bangladesh and India at its own cost and gave responsibility to Tripura PWD to construct the bridge and related approach roads.

Das said that after the finalisation of the tender, two and a half years time would be required to build the 150-metre-long bridge and other necessary facilities.

“A joint team of senior officials of India and Bangladesh recently visited Sabroom (in India) and Ramgarh (in Bangladesh) to initiate construction work and finalise other ground works,” Tripura PWD minister Badal Choudhury told IANS.

“The proposed bridge, to be built at a cost of Rs 94 crore, would be the trading lifeline not only for northeast India but also neighbouring South Asian countries,” Choudhury said.

Referring Bangladesh Industry Minister Alhaz Amir Hossain Amu’s declaration last week here, Tripura minister said: “Both Bangladesh and India are very keen to intensify trade and business with the northeast region and also set up joint venture projects for the benefit of the two neighbours.”

During Modi’s visit last year, both the countries had signed an agreement promising that Bangladesh would allow use of Chittagong sea port and Mongla river port for the movement of goods to and from India.

A Tripura Industry and Commerce Department official said various other tourism-related amenities and infrastructure would also be constructed in and around the bridge area, 135 km south of Tripura capital Agartala.

The Northeast Frontier Railway has started laying broad gauge tracks to extend its network up to border town Sabroom and extension of railway line linking Bangladesh’s Akhaurah railway station, just five kilometres from Agartala railway station.

The National Highway-8, which connects Tripura with rest of India, has been extended up to Sabroom border town.

The northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan as well as China and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam. But this route passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends.

Chaudhury said: “If Dhaka provides transit facilities to India and if we can use the Chittagong international port and other ports in Bangladesh, commodities and machinery can be transported to the northeast from various parts of India and abroad, saving huge time and money.”

“The transit between northeast India and rest of the country and abroad via Bangladesh is likely to become a reality in near future,” he said.

On an average, the distance between important cities of Bangladesh and northeast India is 30 km to 100 km.

Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 500 to 600 km, depending upon the mode of transportation.

The Food Corporation of India had last year ferried 35,000 tonnes of rice in different phases to Tripura from Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh and Kolkata port via Bangladesh using the Ashuganj river ports and Bangladesh highways. Ashuganj river port is just 40 km from Agartala.

In 2012, Bangladesh had allowed the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes through Ashuganj port for the 726-MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.



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