India-Bangaldesh trade along Petrapole, the largest land port in Asia, has come to a grinding halt over the last couple of days, following an agitation by traders, clearings agents and workers across the border demanding India open up the port for imports from Bangladesh.
The problem which began on July 1 has seen at least 800-odd trucks pile-up on the Indian side of the land port. On the Bangladeshi side, called Benapole, at least 500 vehicles are queued-up.
Demand to allow imports
On a normal day, 500-550 trucks cross the border from the Indian side and about 100-150 come from Bangladesh. Sources say, traders and clearing agents on the Bangladeshi side, are upset that only trucks from India are being allowed; whereas truck movements from Bangladesh to India are not being allowed.
Local authority level clearances – for example at the SDO or district administration level – have not yet been given by the West Bengal government over fear of spread of coronavirus into the nearby villages. Hence, import vehicles from Bangladesh are not being allowed, sources say.
“We have not allowed any truck to enter Benapole. This will continue until India resumes import of our goods,” Benapole C&F Agents Staff Association Secretary Sajidur Rehman has been quoted in Bangladeshi media. Clearing and forward agents on the Indian side confirm that there has been no trade for two days now. On July 1, some trucks managed to move to Bangladesh. But they have been stuck with workers refusing to load or unload them. Although Friday, is weekly holiday in Bangaldesh, entry and exit register of vehicles are maintained at the land ports. No such activity was carried out.
Some trucks have been diverted to the Gojadanga land port, another smaller land port nearby, to prevent congestion.
According to Karthik Chakraborty, Secretary, Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association, district administration authorities have been apprised of the matter.
Intervention has also been sought of the state government to resolve the impasse.
We are taking necessary precautions too. The local administration has been apprised and we are awaiting their intervention to resolve this,” he told BusinessLine.
Despite repeated attempts, Jyotipriyo Mallick, West Bengal’s Food and Supplies Minister and in-charge of the North 24 Parganas district, was “not reachable”. West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, did not respond to messages either.
This is the second time since the lockdown that trade along the India-Bangladesh border came to a standstill.