By Elton Gomes
The first cruise on the transboundary river between Kolkata and Dhaka has been scheduled to begin operations in March next year. Buoyed by successful trial of cargo movement to Bangladesh via the inland waterways protocol route, India is now preparing to exploit the same path for tourism purposes, an official said according to a PTI report.
“There have been secretarial-level meetings India and Bangladesh in October,” said SVK Reddy, a member of the Indian Inland Waterways Authority (IWAI) in Kolkata, on Sunday. Reddy added, “It has been decided that one of the river cruise operators will start operations in Kolkata from March 2019. The cruise will take the Kolkata-Sunderbans route and, via protocol route, reach Bangladesh and travel to the northeast,” the Times of India reported. Protocol routes can be defined as maritime navigation routes – these routes are agreed upon by two countries through bilateral treaties.
According to an earlier report in the Times of India, Abdus Samsah, Bangladesh’s shipping secretary said that private players will be allowed to operate a river cruise between the two countries. It was suggested that the cruise would cover a distance of 1,539 kilometres.
India and Bangladesh also agreed to allow private players to run coastal cruises from Chennai to Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar.
What has been planned?
IWAI has already signed an agreement with Kolkata-based Heritage Cruise for the India-Bangladesh cruise. Other cruise operators are also excited about Reddy’s announcement.
Another Kolkata-based cruise operator Vivada, which in 2014 organized a cruise to Bangladesh with an exceptional special permit from the governments of India and Bangladesh, informed IWAI that it was interested in the Kolkata-Dhaka route.
Vivada director R. Sushila said the company is currently planning to operate cruises to Bangladesh and the northeast via Bangladesh. She added that the cruise route to Bangladesh passes through Namkhana, the Indian part of the Sunderbans, the part of Bangladesh of the Sunderbans, Barishal, Chandpur, Narayanganj, and Dhaka. For the northeast, the cruise can take the Aricha route from Chandpur. “The cruises can enter the northeast from Bangladesh through Dhubri in Assam,” she said further, the Times of India reported.
Sushila said it generally takes six days to get to Dhaka, considering night scales and programmes. A logistics expert told the Times of India that a six-day cruise to Bangladesh could cost anything between Rs 60,000 and Rs 75,000 per person, while each ship could carry up to 50 tourists.
Project in works for a year
Reports in June stated that the Kolkata-Dhaka cruise had been in the works for at least a year, and it was held back due to delays on the Bangladeshi side to allow passenger movement and to add new ports in the protocol.
“The issue has been on the radar for some time. We hope to remove the roadblocks and create the necessary framework by next year,” an official in Delhi said, BusinessLine reported.
As per the current protocol, goods traffic is allowed from Kolkata to Mongla (which is located on the outer periphery of the Bangladeshi Sunderbans) and Narayangunj in Bangladesh. To optimise river transport and tourism opportunity, India has plans to add more ports and allow passenger cruises.
The proposal was included in the agenda for the secretary-level meeting in April. However, Bangladesh cancelled the meeting at last moment.
“The river connectivity between the two countries offers immense economic opportunities. However, to start the luxury cruise service, we need to iron out many issues starting from customs and immigration clearance procedures to security,” a source said, as per the BusinessLine report.
Security seems to be major concern as the cruise proposes to sail for nearly five days through the mangroves, on both sides of the border – where piracy is also a significant concern. India and Bangladesh will have to work towards creating a protocol so that the safety of passengers is not compromised.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius