Exports to neighbouring Bangladesh through the land ports in West Bengal are yet to resume with around 5,000 trucks stuck at various locations along the border, even as the government has announced several relaxations, an official of the exporters' body said on Tuesday.
The state administration is not making any intervention to resolve the crisis, triggered by fear among truckers that they will be quarantined following their return from Bangladesh after unloading goods, Federation of Indian Exports Organization's regional chairman (east) Sushil Patwari told PTI.
The trucks are stranded for the last 70 days, causing losses running into crores of rupees, he said. The trade between the two countries takes place through the land ports at Mahadipur in Malda district, Changrabandha in Cooch Behar, Fulbari (Jalpaiguri), Hilli (South Dinajpur), Ghojadanga and Petrapole in North 24- Parganas district.
"There is no change in the status of exports to Bangladesh or Nepal. Trucks remain stranded at the various borders. For Bangladesh, some 5,000 trucks are stuck at various land ports over quarantine fears. So far there has been no effective intervention from the state government regarding this," Patwari said. Exporters thought that trade can resume as greater relaxations kicked in on June 1 and the truckers will be exempted from the strict quarantine norms.
There is a fear among drivers and helpers that they have to stay in 14-day mandatory quarantine after returning following unloading of their trucks. Malda District Magistrate (DM) in a joint meeting with exporters and the truckers suggested to select 50 drivers who will carry out the cross-border trade and said arrangements have to be made for their stay close to the border and they will have to stay there for 15-20 days.
Listing some more safety protocols, the senior official said these truckers will not go deeper than 200 metres into Bangladesh. No decision was arrived at immediately with regard to their discussions with the DM. Mahadipur Exporters Association on Tuesday wrote to the Customs Department, seeking directions to the local administration to resume the trade. The state government allowed resumption of exports on May 11 following the Centre's notification on cross-border trade, but fear among locals over the spread of coronavirus from the returning truckers prevented trade to take off.
Even a plan to unload trucks at ground zero failed. "We had advised full PPE for drivers and helpers and sanitisation of trucks but local administration is not willing to take the risk," Patwari said. FIEO on May 27 shot a letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee highlighting plights of the small exporters and raising apprehensions about thousands of job losses. Even as talks have gained momentum over trade through rail road and waterways, exports are yet to begin.