The ministry of shipping (MoS) has once again urged businesspeople to make good use of the waterways between the Chittagong Port and Pangaon Container Terminal at Keraniganj, Dhaka. It is intriguing why the ministry or anyone else should time and again extol the merit of the inland waterways for transportation of goods in containers - either for export or import. A report claims that it takes 24-36 hours for a truck to reach the inland container depots (ICDs) near the Chittagong Port due to the unrelenting road congestion on the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway. On reaching the ICDs, the cargo is loaded onto a feeder vessel for carrying it to mother vessels. Container packing and customs clearance meanwhile take another one or two days. But if the containerised goods are transported on inland waterways, it takes only 12-16 hours to reach the Chittagong Port from where those can be loaded onto a feeder vessel immediately for transit to a mother vessel.
Then comes the carrying cost. On road, the cost is in between $200-300 for a TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) whereas it is only $99 for the same on waterways. If so much time and money can be saved by using the inland water route, what restrains businesses from taking advantage of this is inexplicable. So far there is no report of piracy on the inland waterways. Rather, goods-laden trucks and covered vans were at times taken over by robbers in order to empty them at unknown destinations. Reportedly, 38 multi-purpose vessels were built for transportation of containers on waterways to a number of inland container terminals. Four are operating under the management of public sector and 11 more under private supervision. Are they too inadequate to serve the purpose or is it because exporters and importers are yet to be habituated with the new system?
Businesspeople are in economic ventures because they are enterprising enough. Not much promotion of the inland waterways should be needed. Usually, people involved with commerce and business look for cutting transportation cost and time because this is fundamental to business practices. Lower cost makes them more competitive and ensures greater profit margins. Now it is essential to know why businesspeople have remained lukewarm about using the Pangaon facility. Reaching the terminal at Keraniganj for goods-laden trucks from the capital's different areas or their reverse journey should not be an uphill task.
The fact is 70 per cent of the containers either originate from or are destined to Dhaka from the Chittagong Port. This port alone handles 92 per cent of the country's foreign trade. In a situation like this, not only Pangaon but also the six more inland container terminals now about to be commissioned for operation or are under construction should be made good use of. This will take the pressure off the country's first four-lane highway and provide momentum to foreign trade. If the transportation time and cost can be reduced substantially, its impact will broadly reflect on the country's economy as a whole.
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