Ramgarh Land Port in Khagrachhari is set to open for immigration but there is no visible progress in Rangamati's Tegamukh as the facilities will be game changers for hill districts through a boost in export-import and tourism with the northeastern states of India.
However, trade through the land port will start once the necessary infrastructure is developed, said the Bangladesh Land Port Authority.
"It could be officially opened anytime in October once the prime minister returns home after her visit to India," Md Sarwar Alam, project director of Ramgarh Land Port, told The Business Standard.
"There are some complications from the Indian side regarding working within 150 yards of no-man's land. We wrote a letter about it in May this year. Although we have not received a reply yet, we expect the problem will be resolved very soon," he added without mentioning any specific timeframe to start the cross-border business.
Initiatives were undertaken separately in 2010 and 2013 to build Ramgarh and Tegamukh land ports, respectively, to boost trade and tourism between the hill districts in Bangladesh and the seven sisters of neighbouring India.
According to the authorities, also under active consideration of the shipping ministry is the matter of opening Tegamukh Land Port after addressing some "minor issues".
"The construction of Tegamukh Land Port has not been delayed. Rather we have undertaken the construction of various land routes such as Bilonia and Ramgarh on a priority basis. Funding for this is also an issue here," State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury told TBS.
"I will visit Tegamukh very soon. We can overcome the minor challenges," he added.
The state minister said that there are no complications from any side – India or Bangladesh.
"The chief minister of Mizoram has also unofficially expressed to me his interest in a speedy construction of the port," he added.
Sources said while India showed interest in setting up the Ramgarh Land Port, the Bangladesh Land Port Authority proposed turning Tegamukh into a land port at the same time by putting forward several benefits to be availed from the project.
How trade will benefit from Ramgarh
Once fully operational, the land port will allow India to transport goods from Chattogram port in only three hours to its seven northeastern states.
It will also create a new opening for Bangladeshi businesses. They will be able to export and import goods to and from the neighbouring country.
According to officials, when the two land ports become fully operational, Bangladesh could export goods such as cosmetics, ceramics, melamine and aluminium wares, bricks, cement, processed food, plastic water tanks, readymade garments and plastic products to India.
Abu Bakar, proprietor of Seven Star Group, which has a licence for business through Ramgarh land port, told TBS, "Though immigration will start very quickly through this port, it may take at least two more years for the movement of goods to commence. Therefore, it has not yet been decided what kind of goods to import and export."
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, "This port will bring about new economic opportunities for the people of the northern part of Chattogram and the Chattogram Hill Tracts. The tourism industry of the hills will also develop."
The land port, which is around 112 kilometres away from 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 the 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.
Kujendra Lal Tripura, a lawmaker from Khagrachhari, recently told TBS, "People of this area used to cross the border illegally as there is no legal route. Now, the land port would reduce people's sufferings."
Gradual changes centred on Ramgarh port
This land port is being developed in Ramgarh municipality. Locals said since the beginning of land acquisition for the port, the price of land in the surrounding area has increased several times. Besides, various business establishments are being developed.
Local resident Mofiz Chowdhury told TBS, "The authorities have purchased 40 decimals of land for the port from our family. Earlier, the price of the land was Tk20-30 lakh, but now we have received more than Tk3 crore for the land."
"Many are taking out licences to trade through the port. Besides, there are some shops, there will be more in the area," said Delwar Hossain, owner of Saiful Decorators, located in front of the port.
Why Tegamukh construction lags behind
If Tegamukh land port is built like Ramgarh, both countries will derive benefits from it, according to people concerned.
"Overall communication of the Chakma-dominant hill region of Bangladesh with people in Mizoram will help in improving their quality of life," an official, wishing to remain anonymous, told TBS.
"Bangladesh will also get the benefits of the proposed 'Asian Highway' by connecting Tegamukh to Mizoram through using the international river Kaladan," he added.
However, the government did not proceed with Tegamukh land port because of financial constraints and also because the World Bank has not approved the feasibility report prepared by the local government engineering department due to poor assessment of the route.
About the delay of Tegamukh land port construction, Md Sarwar Alam, project director of Ramgarh Land Port, said, "When the verification work was going on, an objection to Tegamukh was raised by the Chattogram Hill Tracts Regional Council.
"Hopefully, when Ramgarh is opened, the positive impact of it will be seen in the hilly areas. The locals will then no longer object to Tegamukh land port," he added.