The authorities are planning to open immigration services at Ramgarh land port in Khagrachhari, Chattogram within two months using temporary infrastructure as the main construction project could not be completed within the stipulated time frame.
People concerned have said immigration through the port will facilitate Bangladeshi citizens to travel to the northeastern states of India with much ease.
Import-export activities through the port will start once the necessary infrastructure is developed, they added.
Once fully operational, the land port would allow India to transport goods from Chattogram port in only three hours to its seven northeastern states often dubbed as "seven sisters".
It would also create a new opening for the Bangladeshi businesses to export and import goods to and from the neighbouring country.
The land port, which is around 112 kilometres away from the Chattogram seaport, was scheduled to be completed by 30 June this year. But the authorities have requested a one-year extension to the project tenure in the wake of delays in construction work.
According to Bangladesh Land Port Authority, India has requested the Bangladesh government to start immigration activities through the port even before the start of export-import operations.
The prime ministers of Bangladesh and India inaugurated the Bangladesh-India Friendship Bridge-1 built over the River Feni at Ramgarh, Khagrachhari at a virtual programme in early 2021.
Md Sarwar Alam, project director of Ramgarh land port, said, "We are trying to start immigration services at the port by building temporary structures outside 150 yards of the 'zero line' of the border. We hope that the land port could be opened for immigration within the next two months."
"The original deadline for the opening of the land port is already over. We have applied for an extension to the project duration for one more year, but it seems that it will take more time to complete the entire project.
"However, since India is very interested in this port, they have built several bridges and roads at their own expense. So, we are going to get the benefits of the port very soon," he added.
On 25 October 2018, India signed an agreement with Bangladesh for using Chattogram and Mongla ports as transit points to transport goods to its northeastern states.
Under the agreement, 53.25 tonnes of rods and 49.83 tonnes of pulses from India reached Akhaura land port in Brahmanbaria in four containers from Chattogram port on 22 July 2020.
The next day, the containers reached India's Agartala as the first trial shipment through Akhaura land port.
Earlier, India transported goods of Tripura's Palatana Power Plant through Akhaura land port using the river port in Ashuganj, Brahmanbaria.
People concerned said the opening of the port will change the socio-economic conditions of north Chattogram and hilly areas.
Md Alamgir, chairman of the Bangladesh Land Port Authority, told The Business Standard, "Several large bridges and roads are being constructed connecting the land port. It will positively transform the living standard of local people."
According to a World Bank report, the development in transport connectivity between the two countries could increase India's exports to Bangladesh by 172% and Bangladesh's exports to India by 297%.
Rear Admiral M Shahjahan, chairman of Chattogram port, said, "Our port has the capacity to transport India's transhipment cargo. The Patenga container terminal also is going to open on 21 July. I think Indian businessmen would be more enthusiastic to use the Ramgarh land port to transport goods as it is relatively closer."
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, vice-president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, "The biggest beneficiaries of this port will be the northeastern states of India as they would be able to transport goods through Chattogram port easily and at a lower cost.
"Bangladeshi businessmen are also expected to get a new export door through the land port. Besides, imports of livestock, fruits, timber, seeds, wheat, stone, coal, fertilisers etc from India to Bangladesh will be easier."
"Above all, this port will bring new economic opportunities for the people of north Chattogram and the Chattogram Hill Tracts. The tourism industry of the hills will also be developed," he added.
Kujendra Lal Tripura, legislator from Khagrachhari, said, "People of this area used to cross the border illegally as there was no legal route. Now, the land port would reduce the suffering of people."
"Besides, prices of land around Ramgarh land port have already increased several times. The tourism industry in this region will also get a boost," he added.
Sarwar Alam, project director of Ramgarh land port, said, "The projected cost of the land port is Tk140 crore, which is financed by the World Bank. But, the cost may increase."
He said, "An international standard passenger terminal building will be constructed under the project. There will be a BGB check post and a customs and immigration office inside the terminal building. Besides, passengers will enter and exit after completing all kinds of formalities in the same building in the one-stop service system."
For this port, a bridge with a length of 412 metres and a width of 14.80 metres has been constructed in the Mahamuni area of Ramgarh at a cost of Tk133 crore.
Besides, work on widening the road from Chattograms's Bariarhat to Ramgarh land port is going on involving a cost of Tk845.53 crore.
India is providing Tk581.20 crore for the road widening project. The rest of the money is being provided by the government of Bangladesh.
Besides, nine bridges and 23 culverts are being constructed under this project. Among them, eight bridges and eight culverts are being constructed with funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Currently, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Ramgarh from Chattogram port via Hathazari and Chattogram city. Once the Bariarhat-Ramgarh road becomes operational, it would take only 2.5 hours to cross the distance.
Soumya Talukdar, sub-divisional engineer of the Roads and Highways Department, Chattogram, told TBS, "The 38 km road will be widened from 5.5 metres to 7.3 metres. However, the work could not be started due to various complications. We are now working on land acquisition and other issues. It will take another two years to complete the road widening work."