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Exports from Petrapole fails to pick up pace due to operational roadblock

Kolkata, Jun 9 (PTI) Trade between India and Bangladesh via Petrapole land port in West Bengal that resumed only on Sunday, more than a month after it was suspended amid the lockdown, but it has hit operational roadblock and failed to pick up pace.

Unavailability of drivers to take cargo to Bangladesh and problems related to parking of trucks have led to a situation, due to which only 41 trucks crossed the border in the past two days, officials said on Tuesday.

On Sunday and Monday, only 24 and 17 trucks respectively could cross the largest export facility on the Indo-Bangla border while port authorities said they have the capacity to handle 250-300 trucks a day after completing the mandatory sanitation protocols.

On a normal day, 500-550 trucks cross the border from India.

'There are two issues. We are not getting adequate drivers as they are afraid that they would be quarantined after duty. Secondly, trucks are not released on time by the Bangoan Municipality controlled parking zone at Kalitala,' a senior Federation of Indian Exports Organisations (FIEO) official told PTI.

'The CWC has waived parking charges. We demand that the municipality too does the same,' a senior Federation of Indian Exports Organisations (FIEO) official told PTI.

According to the approved arrangement, there will be a pool of 100 local truck drivers who will go up to 500 metres within the Bangladesh port area, and return after unloading goods. The drivers, who will work in batches, will have to mandatorily stay in isolation when they are not working.

However, the drivers are not forthcoming even at the prospect of getting a lucrative pay as they are receiving conflicting statements on the lockdown norms from different agencies.

A driver can make three trips a day easily and for each trip, he gets Rs 1,000, officials said.

The Bangoan Municipality authorities denied allegations that they are holding trucks in its parking facility at Kalitala.

'There are around 500 trucks in the CWC parking now.

Once that gets cleared, trucks should move from Kalitala.

Otherwise, there would be congestion at the border. There is also dearth of drivers now,' Bangoan Municipality chairperson Shankar Addhya said.

Formalities are carried out in the CWC parking lot before trucks cross the border. But, due to lack of space there, drivers initially park trucks at Kalitala and the Bongaon Municipality earns revenue by collecting parking fees.

It also happens that some trucks of a single consignment are stuck at Kalitala and some others at the CWC parking lot compounding the problem, the FIEO official said.

Exporters and Addhya said drivers do not want to stay in isolation or in quarantine after they cross the land border of the North 24 Parganas district, around 80 km from Kolkata.

All Bangladesh-bound vehicles stranded in and around the Petrapole checkpost are supposed to be cleared by June 14, but these problems need to be resolved to achieve that target, an official said.

Petrapole Exporters and Importers Welfare Association president Paritosh Biswas said he is optimistic that more drivers will soon be ready to work as they are given lucrative remunerations.

Bilateral trade via the integrated checkpost in North 24 Parganas districtwas stopped on May 2, after two days of operation, following protests by locals who were afraid that truck drivers and labourers could spread the virus.

Even before that, trade between the two good neighbours via this land port has been in deadlock for more than a month over various issues including quarantine norms after India imposed the nationwide lockdown from March 25.

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