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SOS to extend inland water pact with Bangladesh

Santanu Sanyal

KOLKATA, May 1

CENTRAL Inland Water Transport Corporation (CIWTC) has sent an SOS to the Shipping Ministry as well as the Indian High Commission in Dhaka seeking necessary steps immediately by the authorities concerned in the two countries for temporary extension of the India-Bangladesh IWT Protocol on Trade & Transit.

Unless this is done, vessels of both the countries will not only stop plying but face a host of other problems, according to informed sources. The validity of the current protocol is due to expire on May 3 and, with no chance of a new protocol being signed before that, a temporary extension of the existing protocol is called for. Otherwise vessels of one country will not be able to ply in the waters of the other.

Right now at least half a dozen Indian vessels are berthed in Bangladesh ports of Narayangune and Mongla; similarly, several Bangladesh vessels are in Kolkata port. Some of the vessels are also in transit, i.e, at various points on the river route.

Even Inland Waterways Authority of India's (IWAI) vessel "Rajagopalachari'', currently in Guwahati and supposed to come to Kolkata shortly, cannot plan her voyage unless the protocol is extended. The river route between Assam and Kolkata/Haldia lies through the Bangladesh territory.

Meanwhile, IWAI and CIWTC have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for deployment of CIWTC as well as IWAI vessels on both National Waterway Nos. I & II for demonstration and promotional voyages. In order to start the first voyage around second week of May in NW I, both IWAI and CIWTC have decided to adopt several measures such as identification and deployment of proper vessels with adequate fuel and manpower, mobilisation of cargo support and announcement in the local markets as well as other places the details of the voyage schedules.

The first voyage, it is learnt, will be from Kolkata/Haldia to Patna for which the details are being worked out. CIWTC will provide the vessel for the voyage. Subsequently, IWAI may place its own vessel, it is learnt.

CIWTC is also planning to lease out some of its vessels, both barges and tugs, to private river transport operators. An announcement to this effect has prompted 15 firms to respond so far. A similar announcement about a year ago evoked unsatisfactory response. A handful of barge operators had allegedly formed a cartel among them and quoted unremunerative rates.

CIWTC has a fleet of 100-odd vessels, half of them being in operational condition. Only 19 vessels have been earmarked for the leasing purpose, it is learnt.

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