By Ashis Biswas
Thanks to recent improvements in road connectivity in the Northeast region, prospects for Indo-Bangla trade and business have brightened considerably. In recent months, Bangladesh companies began exporting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to Tripura, following an agreement signed between Indian and Bangladeshi Governments in 2015. Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed were present at the signing.
Observers had hoped that the supply of LPG through an unconventional but extremely convenient route would pave the way for bigger things. After several trial runs, the project was finally launched .However, the unexpected outbreak of the Covid 19 corona pandemic put paid to such optimism. As the strict post-covid medical sanctions took effect, the movement of goods and people in the region suffered.
Only determined efforts made by both countries somehow kept the supply from Bangladesh going, but there was a big drop in the quantum of gas moved. At one stage, the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) were reduced to importing only 36 metric tonnes daily. This was somewhat disappointing in that two Bangladeshi companies had begun by exporting 500 mts each daily, for a total 1000 mts. to Tripura.
The major advantage was that the fuel was being moved by road , with carriers having to cover only a relatively small distance of 240 kilometres or so. In Tripura, the gas was sent to a bottling plant at Bishalgarh, passing through a stretch of Bangladesh territory. After bottling, the gas was sold among consumers mostly for cooking purposes to other NE states like Meghalaya and Manipur. Bangladesh authorities had welcomed the initiative, as the earnings from a new territory added to the volume of the country’s exports, the final destination being so near and the journey by road being so convenient..
The contrast between the present situation and conditions prevailing in the past could not be sharper. Earlier, forsome8 million gas consumers in the NE states, LPG imports had to be handled by the Haldia port. India has to import close to 48% of its gas requirements– around 26 million mts — from abroad. From Haldia .supplies to the Northeast areas had to be sent via the usual road route through Siliguri corridor, a journey of 1650 kilometres. The savings in terms of fuel and travel time, not to mention the reduction of environmental damage because of the game -changing transit agreement between the two countries can be easily imagined.
Dhaka-based analysts who were anticipating a steadily increasing supply to Tripura in the months ahead, had estimated that a target of exporting around 2500 mts of LPG daily would not be difficult. With a population of around 59 million, there was a large demand for cooking gas in the Northeast region. Consumers also enjoyed an official subsidy. As of now, an estimated 30%potentialbuyers may have remained unserved, because of the corona pandemic.
Meanwhile, the domestic demand for cooking gas continues to rise phenomenally in Bangladesh, consumption increasing by 250,000 mts between 2016 and 201. (IPA Service)