India’s northeast is a prisoner of geography. The 7 states of North East India, except Sikkim, are considered landlocked and ring-fenced by neighbors such as China, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh as the NE states are connected by road to the rest of the country only through a so-called ‘'chicken- neck’ at Siliguri that is a mere 27 km wide and strategically speaking, easy to distort which means the land-based networks of transport and trade, the lifelines through which goods, progress, and prosperity flow, are limited, widespread and overcrowded.
India has always thought of this problem as having a divided solution. One, activate the river networks in this area to uplift maritime trade. Secondly, Agartala, the southern point of the northeast, is temptingly close to the ocean—just 200 km away, separated by foreign territory. To a great extent, land-based access to ports will enhance connectivity. But the implementation of both parts rests on Bangladesh and has been tied up in a bureaucratic argument.
The Gangetic network used for the growing Indo-Bangladesh trade can be extended to reach different points in the northeast—Silghat in middle Assam through the Brahmaputra river (called Jamuna in Bangladesh) and Karimganj in the south of the state through the Kushiyari river. These routes are part of the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol for Inland Transit and Trade (IBPITT) that specifically grants India access to Chittagong and Mongla ports for shipping goods to NER, but were neglected due to various challenges over the years. Efforts are now to breathe new life into them.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that India’s access to the Bangladesh ports would be extremely advantageous for the entire northeastern region. Even during the British era and after Independence, till 1965, Assam had direct access to the seaports through today’s Bangladesh. He thanked Prime Minister Modi for taking initiative in getting the old routes revived.
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