Never a bridge too far: India unveils new trade corridor for Northeast

Never a bridge too far: India unveils new trade corridor for Northeast
The Maitri Setu, a1.9 km bridge fully funded by India, is the fastest land route to connect India's landlocked Northeast region to Chittagong port in Bangladesh.Courtesy: ANI

‘Maitri Setu’ that joins Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh unlocks new opportunities in Tripura and beyond.

The fastest land route to connect India's landlocked Northeast region via Sabroom to Chittagong port.

That's the topline benefit of the Maitri Setu - the 1.9 km bridge joining Sabroom in India with Ramgarh in Bangladesh and fully funded by India - that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated virtually on Tuesday.

"The connectivity between Bangladesh and India will prove to be very important for the northeast region and for India and Bangladesh trade as well. This is a new trade corridor between India and Bangladesh," PM Modi said while inaugurating the bridge.

Bridge over friendly waters

Announced by PM Modi in 2015, the double lane bridge, which also includes approach roads, was constructed at a cost of Rs13 billion by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), a government-owned company under the road transport and highways ministry. It has been built over the Feni river which flows between the Indian boundary in Tripura and Bangladesh, and the name of the bridge symbolises the growing bilateral relations and friendly ties between India and Bangladesh.

Connecting businesses and hearts

PM Modi added that the bridge will not only boost friendly ties between the two neighbours but also prove to be a strong link of business. "The bridge is poised to herald a new chapter for trade and people to people movement between India and Bangladesh. With this inauguration, Tripura is set to become the ‘Gateway of North East’ with access to Chittagong Port of Bangladesh, which is just 80km from Sabroom," the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in the statement.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a video message said the bridge will usher a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

Rightly dubbed the “gateway of Northeast,” the bridge will not only connect the landlocked region with Chittagong port in Bangladesh, but also help unlock the untapped markets of other east and south east economies.

Indian trucks are currently not allowed to transit through Bangladesh, which makes northeast India particularly isolated from the rest of the country – being connected only through the 27-km-wide Siliguri corridor or the ‘chicken’s neck’. This leads to long and costly routes for logistics, the World Bank estimated.

“Goods from Agartala, for example, travel 1,600 kilometers through the Siliguri corridor to reach Kolkata Port instead of 450 kilometers through Bangladesh. If the border were open to Indian trucks, goods from Agartala would have to travel just 200 kilometers to the Chattogram Port in Bangladesh, and the transport costs to the port would be 80 percent lower,” the World Bank said in a recent report.

The bridge also connects Tripura capital Agartala one of the Indian cities located closest to an international sea port, unlocking untapped markets of other east and south east economies.
The bridge also connects Tripura capital Agartala one of the Indian cities located closest to an international sea port, unlocking untapped markets of other east and south east economies.Courtesy: ANI

Time for Agartala to shine

The bridge, which is just 80 km from Chittagong port, also makes Tripura capital Agartala one of the few Indian cities located closest to an international sea port, unlocking untapped markets of other east and south east economies.

Indeed, as PM Modi said during an earlier India-Bangladesh virtual summit, Bangladesh remains “a major pillar” of India’s neighborhood first policy. From the start of his prime ministerial tenure, it was his “special priority” to strengthen India’s ties with Bangladesh, he said – and this is reflected in the slew of infrastructure projects announced by the Indian government since 2014. It is also in line with the Prime Minister’s ‘Look East’ policy, aimed at boosting trade and commerce with east and south-east Asian countries.

With the inauguration of the new trade corridor, India has bridged a long gap in boosting its trade and cargo potential in the north-east.

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