Historically, trade through waterways has been one of the major pillars of economic growth and prosperity in the northeastern states of India and the adjoining areas in Bangladesh, said experts.

“There has been a dip in such practices and efforts to revive such trade mechanisms need to be thought of,” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.

“Private sector involvement becomes pivotal in such a scenario. Bringing small scale industries, entrepreneurs and traders on board will ensure sustainable and efficient cross-border river-based trade and tourism,” he added.

He was moderating a session on engaging the private sector in cross–border navigation and trade in the Meghna River Basin.

It was organised as a side event of the Meghna Knowledge Forum on 23rd June 2021 and was attended by more than 50 stakeholders from business communities, industry chambers, civil society organisations, media and political representatives.

The Meghna Knowledge Forum was hosted by International Union for Conservation of Nature under the regional programme Transboundary Rivers of South Asia.

Biswajit Chakraborty, Director, North East Advisory Council, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said that private sector involvement in inland water transport will bring efficiency that may not be possible by the public sector and benefit the masses.

“Private sector engagement in inland water transport is either through investment in infrastructure development or in providing logistics. The logistics have to be cost-effective, reliable and time-bound. For this, the government has to provide incentives/subsidies for vessel building and its operationalisation to attract the private sector,” he argued.

Selima Ahmed, MP, Bangladesh stressed the importance of private sector involvement for the enhancement of river-based trade and tourism.

“Trade through waterways supports the local residents in this region and the governments on both sides of the border have always been supportive of the same. There is a need to put this support on paper and implement coordinated strategies to enhance the movement through waterways,” she added.

Sujit Chakraborty, President, Centre for Aquatic Research & Environment, people on the ground are unaware of the benefits of trade through waterways.

He pointed out that coordinated efforts are to be taken for awareness generation programmes through the local and national media, on the purpose, utility and added benefits of the waterways.

Syed Monowar Hussain, Former Director, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said that there is a need to have appropriate regulatory reforms to allow small boats to participate in cross-border trade.

“Select short stretches and operationalise cross-border trade through waterways using small boats.  Fengchuganj-Karimganj and Daudkandi-Sonamura could be considered for piloting”, he added.

This would improve local livelihoods, reduce poverty and provide access to markets beyond borders.

The panellists agreed on having norms and standards of small vessel registration developed and mutually recognised by India and Bangladesh for facilitating short-haul trade.

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