Changrabandha, located in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, and bordering Bangladesh, distinguishes itself with a land customs station and an upcoming Integrated Check Post (ICP) along with two functional railway stations on both sides of the border including a now-defunct transit line in between. Other than fostering cross-border trade with Bangladesh, it can be a transit point for Bhutan‘s trade with Bangladesh. Restoration of the Changrabandha-Burimari rail link and its integration with the upcoming ICP has huge potential to boost trade between and among these countries.
The importance of restoring the Changrabandha-Burimari rail link has been recognised by both Bangladesh and India. This is reflected in the Joint Statement released during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India in September 2022. The Joint Statement underscored the importance of implementing bilateral and sub-regional rail, road, and other connectivity initiatives.
Both sides welcomed new initiatives towards link restoration between Changrabandha and Burimari, construction of a container depot at Sirajganj, etc. In addition, both sides also agreed to explore funding these projects through a range of financial instruments under the bilateral development cooperation.
From the connectivity perspective, Changrabandha, located along the international border between India and Bangladesh, is strategically located. It is about 60 kilometres from Siliguri, the commercial hub in North Bengal and approximately 100 kms from both Kakarvitta-Panitanki at the India-Nepal border and Phuentsoling-Jaigaon at the India-Bhuan border.
Moreover, while two National Highways, namely NH-12A and NH 16, connect Changrabandha with other parts of India through the state of West Bengal, Asian Highway 48 connects Thimpu in Bhutan through Phuentsoling to this border point. There is also a railway connectivity between Siliguri, located at a distance of about 30 kms from Kakarvitta at the India-Nepal border and New Jalpaiguri to Changrabandha through Sevok and Bagrakote.
Changrabandha can emerge as a major trading point not only for India and Bangladesh but also for Bhutan. It provides transit, customs, immigration and cargo handling services for goods and passengers. Every day about 350 trucks cross the border. Major goods exported through this land port include boulder, jute seeds, plywood veneer, resin, coal and wheat. Major imports include bricks, net fabric, ready-made garments and food products.
As per an ADB report (2021) titled ‘Strengthening Trade Along the Dhaka–Kolkata Route: For a Prosperous and Integrated South Asia’, Changrabandha-Burimari land custom station facilitated 7.1 percent of Bangladesh’s total land-based export to India. Another report by the Export-Import Bank of India titled ‘Strengthening India-Bangladesh Partnership: Paving The Way for Regional Development’, showcased the important role played by this port for Bangladesh’s export to India.
Trade Potential and Challenges
According to local stakeholders on the Indian side of this port, the movements of 500 trucks every day can be managed. However, there is a serious capacity constraint on the Bangladesh side. Also, there are infrastructure-related issues on the Indian side. This land port suffers from a very congested approach road, the absence of better parking facilities, inadequate customs and immigration facilities and also the state government’s apathy in facilitating the development of surrounding areas.
Local stakeholders termed this port as an ‘exporters run land port’ as most of the infrastructure investment and support has come from the trader community. These include setting up private warehouses, creating a parking system that regulates the flow of Indian and Bhutanese trucks, and constructing restrooms for carrier and forwarding agents and supporting personnel stationed at the border.
It is expected that infrastructural issues such as inadequate parking, customs and immigration facilities would be duly taken care of by the upcoming ICP at Changrabandha. Stakeholders suggested that there is also a need to revive and extend the railway line from Changrabandha railway station, which is just half a kilometre from the zero-point and less than three kms from Burimari railway station across the border.
Restoration of this railway line will not only resolve the challenge of parking space but will also facilitate the transit of goods from Bhutan. Most importantly, this railway line should be fully integrated with the upcoming ICP at Changrabandha.
Therefore, expediting the construction of a multi-modal ICP at this border point is crucial for achieving its trade potential. For this purpose, the Land Ports Authority of India has identified 87.5 acres of land for the development of this ICP. The West Bengal government has been requested for initiating the process of land acquisition.
Furthermore, decongesting the roads and nearby places from trucks arriving from Bhutan and India needs immediate attention. The SUVIDHA Pass Facilitation System for Vehicles, as implemented in Petrapole and Ghojadanga ICPs in West Bengal, may be adopted here as well. It facilitates smooth movement and clearances of trucks with concerned agencies in a time-bound manner.
Suresh P Singh is Fellow and Swati Verna is Research Associate at CUTS International, a global public policy think- and action-tank on trade, regulation and governance.