The government - owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) has started ferrying a fresh consignment of 2, 350 tonnes of rice from Kolkata to Tripura via Bangladesh to avoid transportation hitches through the traditional route of Assam and Meghalaya, an official said here on Friday.
"Transportation of rice from Bangladesh's Ashuganj river port to Tripura on trucks has begun from Thursday afternoon.
It will require two weeks time to carry the 2, 350 tonnes of rice in trucks to godowns in Agartala, " FCI area manager Indranil Mandal told IANS.
He said: "The rice meant for Tripura was brought from Punjab by train to Kolkata, and from Kolkata port, the rice is being carried to Ashuganj river port (in eastern Bangladesh) by a ship. "
The official said that since Thursday 15 Bangladeshi trucks are carrying the rice every day for the next two weeks, except on holidays in India and Bangladesh.
The FCI official said that earlier, in two phases in 2014 and 2015, 20, 000 tonnes of rice was transported to landlocked Tripura through the same route.
Ashuganj port on the Meghna river in Bangladesh is 57 km from Tripura capital Agartala.
Following the Indian government's request, the Bangladesh government had allowed the FCI to ferry 30, 000 tonnes of rice from various parts of India to Tripura via Bangladesh.
"Following diplomatic parleys, the Bangladesh government agreed to allow transportation of food grains for Tripura without charging any duty under a special transit facility, " a top Tripura government official said on condition of anonymity.
The eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, are largely dependent on Punjab, Haryana and other larger states in India for food grains and essential commodities.
Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha told IANS: "The state government had requested the union government and FCI to carry rice and fuel through Bangladesh as transporting it through Assam and Meghalaya became uncertain due to gauge conversion work of railways and poor road conditions. "
"We want to create a buffer stock of food grain and fuel in Tripura in view of the transportation hindrance.
Moreover during the monsoon road transportation becomes a major problem in most of the mountainous northeastern states, " he said.
The monsoon starts in June and continues up to September creating a problem in ferrying food grains, essentials and other goods from other parts of India to northeast India via the hilly roads as the areas are highly prone to landslides.
In 2015 the central government had floated bids to import rice from Myanmar for Manipur and Mizoram, but the matter is yet to fructify.
The Indian government had spent several million rupees to develop Ashuganj port and related infrastructure.
Transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as road connectivity is a major issue for the northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China.
There is only a narrow land corridor to the northeastern region 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.
Agartala via Guwahati is 1, 650 km from Kolkata by road, and 2, 637 km from New Delhi.
But the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just 620 km.
The state - owned Indian Oil Corporation Limited and the Bangladesh government owned Roads and Highways Department signed a MoU on August 18 in Dhaka on the route permit for carrying petroleum products (motor spirit, high speed diesel, superior kerosene oil and Liquefied Petroleum Gas from Assam to Tripura through Bangladesh territory.