On average, fewer than a hundred Bangladeshis cross into India from this crossing daily
The Banglabandha land port in Panchagarh – connecting India, Nepal and Bhutan – could become a convenient gateway for tourists.
The land port, which started immigration services in February 2016, offers tourists near hassle-free exit and entry to Phulbari land port in Jalpaiguri of West Bengal.
However, a recent visit to the port found that, on average, daily, less than a hundred Bangladeshis, who are mostly from adjacent north-western districts, use the crossing to go to India—primarily for medical treatment. Officials at the port’s immigration office often remain idle during their working hours.
From the Indian side, every day, fewer than 30 tourists enter Bangladesh at that border crossing. Most come to visit their relatives in Bangladesh.
However, locals said that the Banglabandha-Phulbari land port could potentially attract more tourists than the Benapole-Petrapole border.
The export and import of goods through Banglabandha port started in 1997 and full trade services began in January 2011. The immigration service is new and service seekers get formalities done in a minimum amount time—but many are uninformed about this.
Service seekers said that dollar endorsement and money exchange services are not available and from the borderline, passengers must carry their luggage for two hundred yards. Aside from the capital, Dhaka, no bus goes directly to the borderline.
From Tetulia, passengers must take a bus to Banglabandha bus stand, and then a battery-run auto rickshaw to the check post. On the way back, they must take a three kilometer ride, by auto rickshaw, to the Banglabandha bus stand.
From the check post area to the bus stand, one needs a mask as local stone crushers, on both sides of the road, create dust. A number of trucks carrying stones also keep the road busy—or sometimes blocked.
Few mobile phone operators have a strong network available at the borderline.
Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Tetulia Saniul Ferdous said that at Banglabandha there is no place to stay at night, and there are no standard restaurant facilities. “This is a big problem. In Tetulia we have some guest houses but those are not meant for the public. Investors from the private sector should come forward to construct hotels and restaurants,” he said.
The border crossing was meant to reduce the amount of time it took to travel from Rangpur and Dinajpur to the: Jalpaiguri, Cooch Bihar, Darjeeling, and Dinajpur districts of northern West Bengal— as well as Sikkim and Assam.
Tetulia Upazila Parishad Chairman Rezaul Karim Shahin said Banglabandha is very close to Shiliguri—which is the gateway to the North East of India, Nepal, and Bhutan. “From here: India’s Siliguri is only eight kilometers away, Jalpaiguri 10km, Darjeeling 58km, Nepal’s Kakorvita 58km, Bhutan’s border 130km and China’s Nathula is 200km away.”
“This short distance should have been Bangladeshi tourists’ main reason to select Banglabandha as a gateway, as the tour cost is very low, but that is not happening. Still this land port is failing to attract them,” he said.
Tourists who want to travel to: Kolkata, Chennai, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, can also use the Banglabandha land port. Connections to Siliguri’s airport are also developed.
Bagdogra Airport in Darjeeling district, in northern West Bengal, which is nine kilometers west of Siliguri, is also a gateway to the hill stations of Kurseong and Kalimpong—and other portions of the North Bengal region of Sikkim. Every year thousands of tourists use the airport.
It has flights to: Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Ranchi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangkok, Paro and Imphal.
That airport also has helicopter flights to Sikkim’s capital Gangtok.
Shah Ali, a resident of Panchagarh said he used to go to India through the Burimari-Changrabandha immigration crossing of Lalmonirhat. “Brokers are everywhere there. We needed to give bribes both to the Bangladesh and India sides and took half a day to complete formalities. This immigration post takes only one or two hours,” he said.
Sub-Inspector Kanan Sarkar, of the immigration police, said the number of service seekers is increasing daily, “but Indian people use this immigration service in fewer numbers than the Bangladeshis. We process fewer than 30 Indian papers a day. Most of them come here to see their relatives in the adjacent districts.”
He said that around two hundred Bangladeshis go to India, via the port, every day.
However, export-import through the land port has gone well since its inauguration. Importers can bring in most importable goods; except potato and thread from Nepal and Bhutan as well as stone, timber, and fruit from India. Bangladesh can export all exportable goods to those countries.
According to Bangladesh Land Port Authority, in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Banglabandha port earned TK19.37 crore revenue. In that year 600,656 metric-tons of goods was imported through the port— while 7,051 metric-tons was exported. In the next fiscal year, the revenue target was fixed at TK20 crore.