PM Modi, Sheikh Hasina, is set to inaugurate the Akhaura-Agartala rail line
Bangladesh and northeast India will re-establish train communication through Tripura on Wednesday, closing a nearly seven-and-a-half-decade gap. The much-anticipated Akhaura-Agartala rail link will be virtually launched at 11 a.m. on Wednesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, according to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
What is the background behind the train services between India and Bangladesh?
- Pre-Partition Rail Links:
- Before India’s division in 1947, there were frequent overnight train services connecting Kolkata, Goalanda, Dhaka, and Narayanganj in the region that became East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
- The Darjeeling Mail train ran from Kolkata (Sealdah Station) to Siliguri, going through what would become East Pakistan on the way via Gede-Darshana and Chilahati-Haldibari.
- Several train services ran between Sealdah (Kolkata) and several East Pakistan destinations, including the East Bengal Mail, East Bengal Express, and Barisal Express.
- Disruption Due to Conflict and Partition:
- When the Indo-Pakistani War broke out in 1965, all passenger train connections between India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) were cut off.
- The Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan’s independence as the nation-state of Bangladesh.
- Rail Connectivity Restored:
- In the early 2000s, efforts to re-establish train communication between India and Bangladesh gathered traction.
- During bilateral talks in 2001, the governments of India and Bangladesh agreed on a railway train scheme.
- During the visit of then-Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Dhaka in February 2007, the train service concept attracted substantial attention.
- On July 8, 2007, the first train went as a test run from Kolkata to Dhaka, transporting Indian government officials who were coordinating train timetables with their Bangladeshi counterparts.
- To address security concerns, a “box-fencing” system was built on either side of the two countries’ border.
- The train service was launched on April 14, 2008, to coincide with the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh)
What is Akhaura-Agartala rail link?
- With a 6.78 km dual gauge rail line in Bangladesh and 5.46 km in Tripura, this rail link spans 12.24 km.
- The Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh has historical connections to northeastern India that date back to the colonial era at Akhaura junction.
- The link was first built in the late 1800s in response to the need for access to the Chittagong port by the Assamese tea industry.
- When PM Sheikh Hasina visited Delhi in 2010 and then-PM Manmohan Singh signed a commitment to reconstruct the train link, the project gained impetus.
What is the significance of the rail project connecting India and Bangladesh?
- Historic Reconnection: After a nearly 75-year break, Bangladesh and the Indian state of Tripura have reestablished train contact thanks to the rail link. This historic reunion represents cooperation and the resuscitation of historical relationships between the two regions.
- Enhanced Regional Connectivity: The train link shortens the time and distance needed to get from Kolkata, West Bengal, India, to Tripura, southern Assam, and Mizoram, India. Bypassing the lengthy route via the stations in Guwahati and Jalpaiguri provides a more direct route. People and businesses in both countries benefit from this improved connectedness.
- Economic Benefits: The rail link promotes trade between India and Bangladesh by facilitating the transportation of commodities. It allows for the transportation of agricultural products, tea, sugar, building materials, iron and steel, consumer goods, and other items. This, in turn, supports regional economic growth and employment generation.
- People-to-People Ties: Improved train connectivity between India and Bangladesh encourages stronger people-to-people ties. It promotes mutual understanding and friendship by encouraging cultural exchanges, tourism, and more engagement between populations on both sides of the border.
- Geostrategic Importance: The rail link is geostrategic in the sense that it improves regional integration and connectivity. It has the potential to have greater consequences for the South Asian and Southeast Asian regions, encouraging regional collaboration and trade.
- Historical Context: Since the colonial era, the Akhaura junction in Bangladesh’s Brahmanbaria district has had strong commercial and cultural relations with India’s northeastern area. The initial building of the junction in the late nineteenth century was spurred by the demand for a connection to the Chittagong port from Assam’s tea industry, providing a historical and cultural dimension to the project.
What are the economic benefits of the rail project between India and Bangladesh?
- Improved Trade: Improved rail connectivity makes it easier to carry goods across the border. It lowers transit costs and delays, making cross-border trading easier for enterprises. This increases the volume of trade, which benefits both countries.
- Cost Savings: Rail transportation is frequently more cost-effective than other modes of transportation, particularly for the transportation of large products. Businesses can save money on logistics, resulting in larger profit margins and competitive pricing.
- Increased Export potential: The train link creates new export potential for Indian and Bangladeshi industries. It enables the movement of a diverse range of products, including agricultural goods, manufactured goods, and raw resources.
- Transit Time Reduction: The rail link reduces transit time for cargo moving. Faster transit implies that perishable items can reach markets faster, decreasing spoilage and enhancing product quality.
- Economic Development: The train project has the potential to stimulate economic development in the areas covered by the rail link. This includes the creation of logistics hubs, industrial zones, and other infrastructure that facilitates commerce and economic activity.
Overall, the re-establishment of the Akhaura-Agartala train link is a positive development with far-reaching consequences for India-Bangladesh trade, diplomacy, and regional connectivity.