Trade through Petrapole land port resumes gradually

Kolkata, Jun 11: As trade between India and Bangladesh through the Petrapole land port in West Bengal has been sluggish since its resumption on Sunday, stakeholders in the neighbouring country have expressed despair, saying the situation has led to a crisis in industrial output and skyrocketing of prices of perishables there.

After only 41 trucks carrying cargo crossed the border in the first two days, 41 more and 12 chassis of heavy vehicles went to Benapole, the corresponding place on the other side of the border, on Tuesday, officials at Petrapole said.

Unavailability of drivers to take cargo to Bangladesh and problems related to parking of trucks in Petrapole have led to the crisis, they said.

The Benapole Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents’ Association, the frontline interface of the Bangladeshi exporters and importers, has written to the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) highlighting the issue.

“Even though trade has resumed, but due to complexity in your systems, export-import is not taking place to its potential of 500-700 trucks a day. A mere 10-20 trucks crossing the border will not achieve any business purpose,” Mafizur Rahman Sajan, president of the Benapole body, said in the letter to the FIEO.

“We are extremely unhappy with the situation,” he said.

The crisis centres around two issues: drivers’ fear about infection and mandatory isolation or quarantine and alleged non-release of trucks by the local Bongaon Municipality from a parking lot controlled by it at Kalitala, according to an official of the FIEO.

The FIEO had written to the government to relax quarantine norms for drivers.

Formalities are carried out in the Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) parking lot before trucks cross the border.

But, due to lack of space there, drivers initially park trucks at Kalitala and the Bongaon Municipality earns revenue by collecting parking fees.

The parking issue at Kalitala was also raised by the Bangladeshi body.

The municipality authorities have dismissed the allegation that it is not releasing trucks from the Kalitala parking lot.

Sajadur Rahman, Benapol C&F Staff Association secretary, said, “Several garment factories are suffering as they are not getting textile from India.”

“If 200-300 trucks can enter our territory by noon, we can unload and release them by evening. But trucks are entering late. The last truck returned to India at 11 pm on Tuesday,” he said.

Bangladeshi traders highlighted that Benapole is a green zone and does not pose any threat of coronavirus infection to drivers.

Bilateral trade via the integrated check-post in North 24 Parganas district was stopped on May 2, after two days of operation, following protests by locals who were afraid that truckers and labourers could spread the virus.

Even before that, trade between the two neighbours via this land port in North 24 Parganas district has been in deadlock for more than a month over various issues including quarantine norms after India imposed the nationwide lockdown from March 25.

Meanwhile, trade has not yet resumed via Ghojadanga land custom station, also in North 24 Parganas district.