In what is a huge milestone for exporters and the government, Bhutanese exporters have found a solution to the problem of exporting stones and aggregates to Bangladesh.
The first consignment of stones using river Brahmaputra left for Bangladesh yesterday, signifying a new beginning in the export business. Inland waterways are cheaper, environment friendly and hassle free, even as the cargo ships ferry thousands of tonnes of materials at one go.
This comes a time when the lucrative business came to an abrupt halt from issues related to transportation. Issues surrounding carrying capacity, export permits, illegal taxes along the highways and even alleged corruption affected the business and therefore revenue to the government. With strict rules on the carrying capacity and confusions, much time and money was lost.
Those in the business desperately explored alternate routes. Some even resorted to railways, but in vain. The private sector has paved a way.
The nearest port at Dhubri is 160 kilometres from Phuentsholing. It is even closer to Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Nganglam making export convenient and cheaper. The same waterways could be used for import, which otherwise use land transport and increase the cost of goods. The starting of an alternate cheaper route should benefit the people of both countries.
For the government, this is one significant achievement, an outcome of the prime minister’s maiden state visit to Bangladesh earlier this year where they signed five bilateral instruments.
The facility benefits businesses and people of three countries and is a testimony of the bilateral relations Bhutan, India and Bangladesh enjoy.
This could be the first step in improving and enhancing connectivity among the three countries. Connectivity is an issue in our region although we are close neighbours. Bhutan is landlocked, but has natural resources, hydroelectricity for instance, that could benefit its neighbours. The cooperation in easing connectivity would result in better relations, beside economic growth.
The purpose of transport is the movement of people and goods. It is critical for our economic development. Bangladesh is busy building or improving its infrastructure as it prepares to graduate to a middle-income country like ours. Its economy is the second fastest growing in the region. And it needs resources that it lacks to fuel the growth.
The next cheap means of connectivity the three countries should explore is railway links. Safer, cheaper and faster rail connections will give landlocked Bhutan access to India’s ports and markets while also making Bhutan accessible to the immediate region around us.
The convenience railways can bring to the transportation sector transcends trade purpose at a time when road transport in the region has become a good example of failed transport planning.
A look at Phuentsholing, the gateway to Bhutan, is enough to convince us. Phuentsholing is already choked. Traffic comes to a halt as 16-wheelers trucks compete for space with other vehicles. On any given day, broken trucks line the Phuentsholing-Pasakha road.
The need now is connecting our border towns and industrial estate with railways.