Unlocking the Potential of Northeast India

An Overview of the Bangladesh-Tripura Connectivity Projects and Industrial Supply Chain

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The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) has constructed the vital bridge and the 1,476m stretch of approach roads, of which 1,193 m falls in the Indian territory and the remaining 283 m falls in the Bangladesh side. [Photo Credit: Tripura govt.]

A recently conducted study by Asian Confluence suggested that Northeast India and Bangladesh need to scale up their multi-modal connectivity, which would not only help the region to raise its competitiveness but also narrow the development gaps in the region. The study also suggested the creation of industrial value chains to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders in India and Bangladesh and Japanese companies in the region. That’s why Japan has proposed developing an industrial hub in Bangladesh with supply chains to the landlocked northeastern states of India. Bangladesh and India have already started to work together to bring synergy in trade facilitation and build express corridors for the transhipment and transit of goods from the Northeast Region to the Chattogram Port of Bangladesh. Tripura is set to become the ‘Gateway of North East’ with access to Chittagong port of Bangladesh, just 70 kilometres from Sabroom in the northeastern state.

Along with the gateway, Tripura can become the key to creating an industrial hub in northeast India and its supply chain in Bangladesh. There are so many ongoing connectivity projects between Tripura and Bangladesh. The industrial value chain would be created on the completion of these projects.

 The Agartala-Akhaura International Railway Connectivity Project

The Agartala-Akhaura international railway connectivity project is one of India and Bangladesh’s most prominent connectivity projects. Akhaura used to be the railway link for Agartala before Independence. In 2013, India and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to revive the railway link. Over 88 per cent of the work on the Agartala-Akhaura international railway connectivity project is complete, and the remaining work is expected to be finished in the next five to six months. The 15-kilometre-long railway line would link Bangladesh’s Akhaura through an international immigration station at Nischintapur along the India-Bangladesh border. With the completion of the project, the travel time between Agartala and Kolkata via Dhaka would reduce from 31 hours to 10 hours. When finished, it will run for 10.6 kilometres from Gangasagar, Bangladesh, to Nischintapur, India, and for 5.46 kilometres from Nischintapur to India’s Agartala railway station. The opening of the Agartala-Akhaura railway line would expand the range of economic contacts.

Moreover, India intends to build an integrated checkpoint and freight processing facility at Nischintapur, which serves as the Tripura junction for the Agartala-Akhaura train route. By using Dhaka as its hub instead of Guwahati, this train connection would cut the distance between Agartala and Kolkata travel time in half. As it would only cover 550 kilometres instead of 1,600, the 31-hour journey from Agartala to Kolkata will take just 10 hours. Four operational train connections between West Bengal and Western Bangladesh presently exist between India and Bangladesh: Petrapole-Benapole, Gede-Darshana, Radhikapur-Biral, and Singhabad-Rohanpur. The utilization of Nepali transit traffic is also informed by the final two. Those from Mizoram, which is 150 kilometres away, and those from Agartala will benefit from the current line.

Other Projects

In addition to the Agartala-Akhaura railway line, Tripura has a few more international connectivity projects linking it with Bangladesh, such as the Indo-Bangla Maitri Bridge in South Tripura and the inland waterways transport project in the Sepahijala district. A second Integrated Check Post (ICP) with Bangladesh is being set up at Sabroom in Tripura. After all the projects are commissioned, Tripura is expected to gain access to Bangladesh’s Chittagong and Mongla ports, opening up new avenues for trade and commerce.

There are several ongoing infrastructure projects connecting Bangladesh and Tripura. One of the historic initiatives connecting Tripura and Bangladesh was the opening of MaitriSetu across the Feni River. After Ramgarh in Bangladesh and Sabroom in India are bound by the Maitri Bridge, Tripura would become the entry point to Southeast Asia. Just 74 kilometres separate this bridge from Chittagong Port.

The Feni bridge linking Sabroom, Tripura, with Chittagong, Bangladesh, and the Agartala-Akhaura train line are two connectivity projects that, when finished, would transform Tripura from a “landlocked” state into one that is well-connected. Tripura will improve its relationships and connections by building roads linking it to Thailand, Myanmar, and India.

With the completion of its new terminal this year, Tripura’s Maharaja Bir Bikram airport will become the third international airport in the landlocked northeastern area. Once this airport is finished, flights will be between Agartala and Dhaka and other places like Chittagong and Sylhet. Pranay Verma, the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, has lately shown interest in investing in new airports in Bangladesh to improve connectivity between the northeastern regions. Aviation travel will improve connections not just between Bangladesh, the Indian subcontinent, and Tripura but also between India and ASEAN nations.

Moreover, the power department of India is planning to set up Northeast India’s first solar power storage facility in Tripura. In addition to meeting the needs of the state, plans are also being made to export pollution-free, environmentally friendly electricity from this storage as per the needs of Bangladesh. Ratan Lal Nath, Minister for Power, Government of Tripura, said this in a press conference on the evening of April 1, 2023. Initially, the state government selected the Sabrum area of the South District. Because a special economic zone is being built here, it will be possible to export surplus electricity to Bangladesh by meeting the region’s needs.

For Tripura’s benefit

None of the industries would work in Tripura if it didn’t create its supply chain in Bangladesh. And for creating supply chains, all those connectivity projects between Bangladesh and Tripura must get completed soon as Tripura is one of the main gateways to the northeastern region to India through Bangladesh. The dreams of people from Tripura to start business relations with Bangladesh will be bolstered after the completion of these projects. Tripura will reach a significant position in trade and commerce, and job opportunities will be created for unemployed youths and a new route for public and goods transport. 

Samara Ashrat

Samara Ashrat is a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Bucharest. Her areas of interest are South Asian Politics, Security, and the economy. She occasionally contributes to several newspaper and blog portals including The Observer Bangladesh, Dhaka Tribune, The Daily Ittefaq etc.

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