Agartala: India might operate direct bus services soon between the northeastern states and Kolkata via Bangladesh to ferry people easily from the mountainous region, a top official said on Friday. "A meeting was held in the road transport and highways ministry in New Delhi on Thursday and some modalities were finalised to operate direct bus services between the northeastern states and Kolkata via Bangladesh...," a ministry official told IANS from New Delhi by phone.
The official refusing to be named said: "Now the Indian surface transport minister would soon hold talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart to finalise the modalities. The issue might take a final shape before Prime Minister Narendra Modi s visit to Bangladesh next month." Tripura government officials also attended the meeting. Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey refusing to give details of Thursday s meeting, said that Tripura has been demanding direct bus services between Tripura and other northeastern states and Kolkata via Bangladesh for easy movement of people of the northeastern region to other parts of India. He told IANS: "To introduce the direct passenger bus services between Tripura and Kolkata via Dhaka, a high level first meeting was held in Kolkata on March 10, 2010."
"That meeting had finalised various technicalities of the proposed bus services. Officials of foreign, surface transport ministries, government transporters bodies and other officials were present in that meeting," Dey said. The minister said the union road transport and highways ministry had confirmed about the bus service to the Tripura government on December 13, 2011 but after that there was no progress in this regard. Meanwhile, after a four-month suspension, the Tripura government owned Tripura Road Transport Corporation (TRTC) resumed its Agartala-Dhaka bus service from Friday. "In view of the political turmoil in Bangladesh, the TRTC had suspended its bus service since January.
However, the Bangladesh government-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) was running its bus service almost as per schedule during this period," TRTC s managing director R. M. Malakar told IANS. "Currently, the Agartala-Dhaka and Dhaka-Agartala bus services are being run four days a week and the periodicity is likely to be increased due to the demand of the Kolkata-bound passengers," the official added. The Agartala-Dhaka bus service started in September 2003. The Kolkata-Dhaka bus service was introduced in July 1999. To introduce the Guwahati-Shillong-Dhaka bus service, a trial run was conducted in the second week of December last year from Assam s main city of Guwahati.
Transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as road connectivity is a big factor for the mountainous northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China. There is only a narrow chicken neck land corridor to the northeastern region from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through dangerous hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles especially big passenger buses and loaded trucks very difficult, particularly during the monsoon. Hurdles in travelling to other parts of the country by road, rail and air are increasingly prompting the people of Tripura and other northeastern states to go to other parts of India via Bangladesh.
Before the partition of the country in 1947, the routes of the then East Bengal (now Bangladesh) had been used to ferry men and material to and from northeast India. "For the people of Tripura, southern Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, the Bangladeshi route is the only, secured, easier and cost effective option to go to Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of India as road, rail and air journeys from this hilly region are terrible," Barun Saha, a trader in Agartala, told IANS.
Several hundred passengers, including seriously ill patients, job seekers, students, even bridegrooms and tourists have always been facing severe problems in going to Kolkata and other parts of India in view of the non-availability of air tickets for want of aircraft. "Since last year, eight airlines, including Jet Airways and SpiceJet, in a phased manner, stopped their operations on the Kolkata-Guwahati-Agartala-New Delhi routes, causing enormous problems for people bound for these cities," a senior official of the Airports Authority of India told IANS.
"Exploiting the situation, travel agencies in Agartala were booking air tickets in fake names and selling these to passengers at exorbitantly high prices," Superintendent of Police (CID) Sanjoy Roy told IANS. The CID is now investigating the black marketing of air tickets in Agartala. Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km. The northeastern states of Tripura (856 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Mizoram (318 km) and Assam (263 km) share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh.