Launching the Sabroom ICP: A New Era in Connectivity between Bangladesh and India

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On March 9, 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated numerous development initiatives in Tripura, valued at Rs 8,534.02 crore. Among these was the unveiling of Tripura’s second integrated check post (ICP) located in Sabroom, situated at the southernmost border with Bangladesh. The launch of Sabroom Land Port marks a significant milestone as it provides direct access for India’s northeastern region to the Chittagong Port in Bangladesh, a mere 75 km away, compared to the distant Kolkata/Haldia Port, which is 1,700 km away. This connection not only enhances maritime connectivity between northeastern India and Southeast Asia via the Bay of Bengal but also elevates the Bangladesh-India connectivity to new levels. Presently, the Petrapole-Benapole border hosts the largest ICP between the two countries. However, analysts foresee that the trade and passenger traffic volume along the Sabroom-Ramgarh route may surpass that in the near future.

In March 2021, Prime Minister Modi initiated the construction of the Sabroom Land Port, situated in the South Tripura district of Tripura state, along the India-Bangladesh international border. Positioned strategically at Tripura’s southernmost tip, this land port holds immense importance in connecting India and Bangladesh via road and railway links.

A 2022 report from the World Bank corroborates that establishing seamless transport links between Bangladesh and India holds the potential to boost national income significantly, with Bangladesh potentially seeing an increase of up to 17 percent and India up to 8 percent. Additionally, the report underscores the potential for enhanced transport connectivity to drive exports between the two nations, projecting a substantial surge of 297 percent in Bangladesh’s exports to India and 172 percent in India’s exports to Bangladesh. Moreover, an assessment by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) suggests that enhancing priority regional transport corridors in Bangladesh could facilitate the movement of approximately 18 million tonnes of freight across Bhutan, India, and Nepal.

Presently, 23 Land Customs Stations have been designated as Land Ports. Among these, five – Benapole, Bhomra, Burimari, Akhaura, and Nakugaon – are managed directly by the Bangladesh Land Port Authority (BLPA). Meanwhile, Sonamosjid, Hili, Teknaf, Bibirbazar, and Banglabandha Land Ports are operated by Private Port Operators under the BOT (Build, Operate, and Transfer) arrangement. A Private Port Operator has been appointed to develop and manage Birol Land Port. The development of the other 12 land ports – Tamabil, Darshona, Belonia, Gobrakura-Koroitoli, Ramgarh, Sonahat, Chilahati, Tegamukh, Daulatganj, Sheola, Dhanua Kamalpur, and Balla – is currently underway.

Constructed at an expenditure of Rs 230 crore, the Sabroom Land Port is seamlessly linked to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port via the Maitree Setu (Friendship Bridge) over the River Feni. This connection positions Tripura as a key gateway to India’s northeastern region. Additionally, the new land port will establish connectivity with the Matarbari deep-sea port in Bangladesh, currently under construction with assistance from Japan. With the inauguration of this land port, not only will India’s northeastern region benefit, but landlocked countries in the vicinity such as Bhutan and Nepal will also gain access to the Bay of Bengal.

During the virtual inauguration of the land port by Prime Minister Modi, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Saha expressed his enthusiasm for the opening of this port and the Maitree Setu. He articulated that these advancements will mark the beginning of a period of enhanced connectivity and closer people-to-people relationships between India and Bangladesh, fostering the development of a new shared civilization and cultural exchange. CM Saha underscored that Bangladesh’s provision of access to the Chittagong port will significantly benefit both nations by stimulating increased trade and commercial activities. Moreover, he stressed that Tripura will now emerge as a pivotal nexus linking Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, and India, particularly the northeastern region, owing to its strategic positioning.

The Sabroom Land Port will offer various amenities including a passenger terminal building, cargo administrative building, warehouse, fire station building, electrical substation, and pump house. These facilities will streamline the movement of passengers and cargo between Bangladesh and India. Notably, the new port provides direct access to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port, which is just a two-and-a-half-hour journey by road, enhancing trade and connectivity between the two countries.

The Sabroom Land Port joins the ranks as the fourth such facility along the India-Bangladesh border, complementing existing ports at Agartala in Tripura, Dawki in Meghalaya, and Petrapole in West Bengal. Together with the Maitree Setu, it stands as a testament to a series of initiatives aimed at enhancing connectivity not only within the Northeast but also extending to neighboring countries like Myanmar. These projects signify a concerted effort to strengthen regional ties and facilitate smoother trade and movement of goods and people across borders, fostering economic growth and cooperation in the broader South Asian region.

In 2023, May, India inaugurated the Sittwe port located in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. This port serves as a crucial link to Mizoram in northeastern India through the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Corridor. However, the pace of development on this project has significantly decelerated due to the ongoing conflict between Myanmar’s resistance forces and the military junta. Consequently, the inauguration of the Sabroom Land Port in Tripura takes on added significance, providing an alternative route and bolstering connectivity amidst the challenges faced by the Kaladan project. It will enhance the bilateral ties between Bangladesh and India. The Kaladan Multimodal Transport Corridor extends beyond merely linking Mizoram with Myanmar; it represents India’s broader engagement with the thriving economies of Southeast Asia. Furthermore, as a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), these new connectivity pathways enable India to strengthen its relationships and presence in the prosperous Southeast Asian nations. Additionally, Bangladesh stands to benefit from the positive spill-over effects of enhanced connectivity.

Gaining entry to the Bay of Bengal will significantly reduce the expenses associated with freight transportation to the Northeastern region. Currently, the sole method for freight transport between the Northeast and the rest of India relies on the Siliguri Corridor, often referred to as the Chicken’s Neck. With a series of ports established along India’s eastern coastline, Indian naval vessels can navigate freely in the Bay of Bengal, situated at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region.

Regarding land connectivity, India is currently overseeing the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. This highway links Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand, passing through Mandalay, Naypyitaw, and Bago in Myanmar. In terms of sub-regional connectivity, India is part of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA). This agreement emerged as an alternative after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) failed to reach a consensus on a regional motor vehicles agreement during a summit in Nepal in 2014. India, Bangladesh, and Nepal have ratified the agreement, while Bhutan, initially holding off for parliamentary approval, is now actively considering joining the MVA, as indicated during a recent meeting on BBIN MVA implementation in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Both Bangladesh and India will serve as pivotal hubs for regional connectivity, with their strengthened bilateral connections playing a key role in facilitating this network.

The inauguration of the Sabroom Land Port symbolizes a new chapter in connectivity between Bangladesh and India, marked by enhanced trade, cultural exchange, and people-to-people ties. It not only strengthens the ties between the two nations but also serves as a catalyst for broader regional integration and cooperation. As India continues to spearhead initiatives like the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and participates in agreements such as the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement, it underscores its commitment to fostering connectivity and economic growth in the South Asian region. The Sabroom Land Port, along with other infrastructure projects, stands as a testament to India’s dedication to building bridges, both literal and figurative, towards a more interconnected and prosperous future for all stakeholders involved. The inauguration of the Sabroom Land Port marks the dawn of a new era in connectivity between Bangladesh and India, promising to usher in unprecedented levels of interaction and cooperation between the two nations.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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