Ashuganj river port in Brahmanbaria has not gone through any development work since its inception as a full-fledged port 11 years ago despite having huge potential in facilitating trade in the country.
Although the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) is planning to increase the leasing price of the port in the next fiscal year, little has been done to expand its capacity.
At present, there are only two jetties in the port, which is much less than needed considering the number of ships arriving here.
Traders say it takes 4-5 days to unload goods from each ship, which creates long queues in the port. However, if a ship cannot be unloaded within seven days of anchoring at the port, it has to pay extra money.
The port is currently being used to transport goods to different areas of the country through waterways, which saves both time and money. It is also used to transport goods between India and Bangladesh.
The port was inaugurated officially in 2011 through a transport of goods from Palatana power station in Tripura, India. Before that small and large cargo ships and bulkheads used to anchor in the ferry ghat area of the Meghna River in Ashuganj. Currently, more than 1,000 workers are making a living by loading and unloading goods in this port.
Traders say hundreds of small and large ships loaded with various goods, including rods, cement, stones, fertilisers, paddy and wheat arrive at Ashuganj river port every month. If the number of jetties and other facilities are increased, the number of ships will be doubled.
They note that they cannot use the existing warehouse to keep their goods at the port as it was built to store Indian goods. So if delivery is delayed after the unloading of goods from the ship, they have to suffer.
Besides, trucks used for transporting goods have to be parked on the road in front of the port as there is no truck yard there, they said.
The traders have demanded that five more jetties be built to solve such problems and expand the commercial activities of the port.
Nasir Mia, a businessman, said, "Even though more than 11 years have passed since its establishment, the much-needed infrastructural development of Ashuganj river port has not taken place. We cannot unload goods from the ships at the scheduled time due to a jetty shortage. We also need a truck yard."
Another businessman, Nazrul Islam, said, "Other ships have to be anchored at the port until the goods of one ship have been unloaded. So, jetty shortage is the biggest problem. At least five more jetties need to be built for uninterrupted loading and unloading."
Touhidul Islam Nasir, the lessee of Ashuganj river port, said, "The facilities in the port are not enough considering the leasing money. We have a shortage of jetties and there is also no warehouse."
"The government will benefit from the port if the problems are solved," he added.
In the current financial year (2021-2022), a contractor in Ashuganj leased the port for about Tk1.10 crore. The contractor charges Tk23 for per tonne of goods transported through the port. In addition, small ships have to pay Tk300 and large ships Tk500 as berthing fees while staying at the port.
Md Shahid Ullah, deputy director of BIWTA and in charge of the port, said, "Once the port was not very important. At the time, the lease price of the port was also low. But now the importance of the port is increasing with the rise of transportation of goods. So the lease price will be increased in the next financial year."
"The port needs more infrastructural development. The number of jetties should also be increased. We understand that. If the traders send us their demands in written form, we will deliver it to the authorities concerned," he added.