The growing interests of the landlocked states have prompted Bangladesh to initiate modernisation of the country’s second sea port at Mongla, Khulna which, experts say, has the potential to emerge as a South Asian regional port.
Bangladesh Railway has undertaken a project to link the port with the country’s railway network of over 28,000km, aimed at facilitating movement of goods to and from the landlocked states of Nepal, Bhutan and some states of India.
Projects, including procurement of dredgers, to make the port channels suitable for movement of bigger vessels have also been taken to tap the full potential of the underutilised port.
“In next 3-4 years, we’ll be able to connect 53 kilometres of rail track between Mongla and Khulna,” Bangladesh Railway Director General Abu Taher told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said the governments of Bangladesh and India have been funding the project worth over US$175m.
Khulna is connected by a railway network that stretched up to the Indian station of Rauxal in the Indo-Nepal border through Bangladesh’s Rohanpur and Birol stations. The route can also reach Indo-Nepal station of Jogobani.
Rehabilitation of the Chilahati-Haldibari rail link and the construction of Burimari-Changrabandha track will connect Bangladesh railway with Hashimara station along the Indo-Bhutan border through the Indian railway network.
“Mongla has huge potential to serve Nepal, Bhutan and India (if they wanted) as a trading port in the region,” said Commodore Khurshed Alam, former chairman of Mongla Port Authority.
He said the Mongla port remained underutilised and it could provide faster service for the Nepalese and Bhutanese users, who use Kolkata port for their export-import businesses.
“The goods-laden trucks can easily go to the Mongla port to be shipped in and out. The proposed rail link will be an added advantage,” he said.
Businessmen from Nepal and Bhutan have had several meetings with the governments of Bangladesh and India, expressing their interests in using the Mongla and Chittagong ports.
The two South Asian countries are separated from Bangladesh by a small strip of Indian territory. New Delhi has already agreed allowing the cargo from Nepal and Bhutan to use Bangladesh ports.
“Mongla port has every potential to become a regional port. Nepal and Bhutan can easily use the port provided Bangladesh ensures better, cheaper and faster port facilities,” said port user Syed Zahid Hossain, managing director of Khulna Trading.
He said the government should speed up the process of dredging the port channels to allow the big ships anchoring here.
At present, ships having over 7-metre draft can harbour in Mongla. But, the number of this type of ship is decreasing now.
So, the government should immediately dredge the channels enabling the big ships having 9.5-metre draft to anchor,” Hossain said.
He said Kolkata’s Haldia port had been getting silted everyday brightening Mongla’s prospect.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said that the government has already started the process to procure the dredgers for maintaining navigation in Mongla port, having five jetties with the capacity of handling over 300,000 teus (twenty equivalent units) of containers per year.
“Setting up of the rail link will allow the traders to carry goods both by rail and road to and from the port,” he said.
Out of the five, two jetties are in operation. One jetty handled 40,000 teus of containers last year, Mongla Port Chairman Commodore M Habibur Rahman Bhuiyan said.
“We take at best three days to process the papers being submitted by the users from Nepal, Bhutan and India,” he said.
He informed that the Nepalese ambassador in Dhaka already visited Mongla port expressing his country’s keen interest in using the port.
In September last year, a business delegation from Nepal’s Birgunj Chamber of Commerce had series of talks with the ministers regarding the use of Mongla and Chittagong ports for third country trade.