Joint checkpost for the Sunderbans

KOLKATA, TNN, May 31, 2012

Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s possible meeting with Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, the ministry of home affairs has asked the Bengal government to set up an integrated check-post (ICP) in the Sunderbans. State officials have already been asked to implement the project. They are reading the MHA’s diktat as a message to Mamata to enhance ties with Bangladesh, following the “disagreement” over Teesta water sharing.

Responding to the chief minister’s plea, the Bangladesh government had sent tons of hilsa to West Bengal last week. It is clear that Mamata, too, is keen on maintaining good relations with the neighbour.

The project at Namkhana in North 24-Parganas is going to be the second such check post along the state’s porous borders with Bangladesh. Just before the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh last year, Union home minister P Chidambaram had laid the foundation stone for the state’s first ICP at Petrapole in North 24-Parganas. The Centre will bear the cost of both the ICPs which would be modelled on check-posts at airports.

It would take about two years to build the check-posts with features like warehouse, immigration centres and modern rest rooms – to ensure smooth movement of people and commodities between the two countries. These will also reduce chances of illegal immigration and pilferage.

But the government must take care so as not to create any kind of “imbalance” in the Sunderbans while implementing the project, wrote Rakesh Singh, joint secretary (police), MHA.

Bangladesh expert Jayanta Roy said, “The news comes as a huge surprise – especially since the first ICP is yet to come up. I guess setting up one in the Sunderbans is a challenge because of the difficult terrain.” Roy added, “However, we do welcome the move, but one must relate the project to the holistic development of Sundarbans where the environment is suffering from consistent degradation.”

Delhi’s message to Writers’ Buildings is clear: check-posts like these would help strengthen ties between India and Bangladesh and augment trade. Similarly, the message would go down well with the Awami League government after the Teesta water sharing bid fell through, thanks to Mamata’s opposition

. Attempts by Delhi to convince the CM have drawn little response since Mamata is not making her stand clear on the river pact.

At this juncture, preparations for the ICP would certainly be seen as Delhi’s intentions.

The UPA government plans to build 12 ICPs along the international borders. Seven of these will be along the Indo-Bangla border. The Land Port Authority of India, a statutory body, would manage these posts which are very essential for passengers and goods traffic

. But India hardly has the infrastructure to support goods traffic worth about Rs 10,000 crore. In the years ahead, it will multiply to anything between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore, officials said.

Under the ICP, there will be cargo building, passenger terminal building, cargo inspection shed, quarantine laboratory, warehouse, cold storages, isolation bay, clearing agent, banks, parking facilities, cafeteria and internet facilities.