The Bangladesh government took the initiative to build land ports in three hill tract districts nearly seven years ago, aiming to boost trade with neighbouring countries India and Myanmar.
Construction at Ramgarh, one of three land ports, has made some headway, but uncertainty hangs over the fate of two other projects in Tegamukh and Ghumdhum.
According to Ministry of Shipping officials, the government took steps to build land ports in Tegamukh of Rangamati, which is located near Mizoram of India, Ramgarh in Khagrachhari, which is located near South Tripura of India and Ghumdhum of Naikhongchhari which is located near Tambru of Myanmar.
The Bangladesh government formally announced the Ramgarh land port project on November 7, 2010 and Tegamukh land port project on June 3, 2013.
The formal announcement declaring Ghumdhum a land port is yet to be made.
Sources said that ECNEC has given formal approval to the Ramgarh land port construction project, and road communication between the land port and Khagrachhari is in acceptable condition.
However, there are several narrow bridges on the route from Ramgarh to Baraiyarhat, and no bridges and approach roads connect the land port to Sabroom of South Tripura.
The government had initially planned to launch Ramgarh land port by December 31, 2016. However, to make the port fully operational, the above mentioned issues must be sorted out.
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On the other hand, legal hurdles have prevented land acquisition for Tegamukh and Ghumdhum land port projects.
The Barkal upazila of Rangamati, which is near the designated location for Tegamukh land port, is a remote and hilly region. Moreover, the only way to reach Mizoram from Tegamukh is by boat as the area is not reachable by roads.
Barkal is more than 100 kilometres away from Tegamukh, so around 126 kilometres of road must be built to allow vehicles to transport goods.
A bridge also must be built over a river in the area. There are no police outposts or stations in the 50km radius surrounding the land port project site.
Meanwhile, Tambru of Myanmar is only 3.5km away from Ghumdhum area of Bandarban. But, Ghumdhum is 35km away from Naikhongchhari.
There is a canal in the region named Debinna Canal, which is a branch of the Naf River.
A bridge and a road are connecting the two neighbouring countries. The Bangladesh government is implementing a project amounting to Tk120 crore to expand the road’s width. The project is being supervised by Bangladesh Army.
Speaking on the matter, Chairman of Bandarban Hill District Koi Sha Hla Marama said the Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, accompanied by several government officials, has visited the land port project area.
“There have been some difficulties over land acquisition, but it will be resolved soon. The government plans to relocate the customs office for this port to Balukhali of Cox’s Bazar,” he added.
However, objecting to the government’s plan, Marma said: “The customs office for the Tegamukh land port must be located inside the Bandarban district, as the people demand it.”
Aside from Ramgarh, construction for the other two land ports is yet to begin.
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Chairman of Bangladesh Land Port Authority Tapan Kumar Chakraborty said the World Bank is funding the construction of these land ports, and construction will begin very soon.
Meanwhile, when approached for comment, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said the three land ports, upon project completion, will change the economic landscape of the region.
He added that one of the projects is progressing fairly well, and the construction for the other two projects will soon begin, after resolving some minor issues.
“We are making a serious effort to finish construction of the three land ports as soon as possible,” he added.
Officials concerned told the Bangla Tribune that when the three land ports become fully operational, Bangladesh could use the ports to export products and goods such as cosmetics, ceramics, melamine and aluminum wares, bricks, cement, processed food, plastic water tanks, readymade garments and plastic products to India and Myanmar.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune