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FCI to ferry more rice to Tripura via Bangladesh
TIWN
FCI to ferry more rice to Tripura via Bangladesh
PHOTO : All the rice loaded trucks are waiting for their clearance in Akhaura. TIWN File Photo

Agartala, March 30 (TIWN / IANS) Another 10,000 tonnes of rice will be ferried to Tripura via Bangladesh this week as train services have been stopped in the southern part of the northeast region of India due to gauge conversion, a minister and officials said here on Monday.

Train services in Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam have been suspended since last October for two-phase track conversion from metre-gauge to broad-gauge being undertaken by the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) and scheduled to end March 2016.

The first phase, covering a 210-km route -- Lumding-Silchar (in southern Assam) line -- has been completed and the inaugural goods train carrying about 2,300 tonnes of potatoes from West Bengal reached Silchar on March 27.

According to NFR officials, the gauge conversion work on the Silchar-Agartala section would be completed by March next year.

"The Food Corporation of India (FCI) informed us that it will transport another 10,000 tonnes of rice for Tripura via Bangladesh this week," Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha told IANS.

He said: "The Tripura government has urged the central government to carry rice for the state regularly via Bangladesh till the railway's gauge conversion works are completed. We want to create a buffer stock of food grain in Tripura before the beginning of the monsoon in June."

The monsoon starts in June and continues up to September creating a gigantic problem in ferrying food grains, essentials and other goods from other parts of India to the northeast via mountainous roads, as the areas are highly prone to landslide.

An FCI official said the new consignment of rice is expected to start reaching Tripura on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The FCI last year ferried 10,000 tonnes of rice in two phases to Tripura from Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh via Bangladesh.

"Several ships carried the rice from Visakhapatnam port to Kolkata port, then to Ashuganj port in (eastern) Bangladesh. From Ashuganj port, Bangladeshi trucks ferried the rice to FCI warehouses in Nandannagar near Agartala," the FCI official said.

Ashuganj port over the Meghna river in eastern Bangladesh is 57 km from Tripura capital Agartala.

The FCI has decided to carry a total of 35,000 tonnes of rice in different phases for Tripura via Bangladesh by this year's end.

The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on Punjab, Haryana and other larger states in India for food grains and essential commodities.

The central government has also floated bids to import rice from Myanmar for Manipur and Mizoram.

Following diplomatic parleys, the Bangladesh government agreed to allow transportation of food grains for Tripura across its territory without charging any duty under a special transit facility.

Earlier in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes through Ashuganj port for the 726-MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.

The Indian government had spent several millions of rupees to develop the Ashuganj port and related infrastructure.

After Tripura, it is likely that food grains will be ferried in a similar way to other northeastern states, the FCI official said.

Transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as road connectivity is a big factor for the mountainous northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China.

There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern region from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles, especially loaded trucks, very difficult.

For instance, Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 620 km.

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