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Cross-border rivers can boost short haul trade, improve local incomes : CUTS study

The majestic Brahmaputra

People living in the international border areas along India and Bangladesh are socially and economically marginalised and focus must be redirected to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Veena Vidyadharan, fellow at CUTS International in a research paper said that better participation in economic activities and trade operations would contribute to the livelihoods and local economy. “Local trade for the local community– whether Indians or Bangladeshis– living along the borders is critical. Their lives and problems are the same though they may belong to two separate countries. The solution lies in a micro approach,” Vidyadharan told India Narrative.

While there has been focus on increasing local trade through the land route and even increasing the number of border haats, CUTS has prescribed wide usage of the waterways to boost local and short haul trade.

“One option is to prioritize short haul trade. Small vessels can ply rivers even under low draft conditions, thereby assuring year-round navigation. Diversification of tradable commodities would sustain the trade operations and also would add to the volume of trade,” the CUTS research said.

India and Bangladesh share 54 transboundary rivers. Despite existing bilateral agreements for using designated riverine routes for trade and transit, only in the past few years have infrastructural development initiatives started in India for constructing river terminals, multimodal terminals as well as fairway development, she said.

According to the CUTS study, as waterways are a relatively slower mode of transportation compared to road and railways, only bulk cargo movement is economically viable, particularly for long hauls. “To facilitate such transport, the goal is to harness protocol routes with sufficient minimum depth of 2.5 m of the channel for the movement of big steel hull vessels. Despite the efforts taken by India and Bangladesh in augmenting the capacity of such protocol routes, the actual volume of trade utilizing them has not risen significantly,” it said.