अगरतला Agartala (AGTL): Hurdles in travelling to other parts of the country by road, rail and air are increasingly prompting the people of Tripura to go to other parts of India via Bangladesh.
Before the partition of the country in 1947, the routes of the then East Bengal (now Bangladesh) had been used to ferry men and materials to and from northeast India.
“For the people of Tripura, the Bangladeshi route is the only and secured option to go to Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of India as road, rail and air journeys from this hilly state now become impossible,” Tarun Chakraborty, an executive of a Kolkata-based private company posted here, told IANS.
“If you are keen to visit Tripura, then the Bangladeshi route is the solitary and secure alternative. I, along with my family, were stranded in Kolkata for three days. My leave has exhausted but I was unable to rejoin my office in Agartala as no air tickets were available . I returned to Tripura from Kolkata via Bangladesh,” he added.
Thus, “the periodicity of the Agartala-Dhaka and Dhaka-Agartala bus services is likely to be increased in view of the pressure of Kolkata-bound passengers,” said an official of Tripura government-run Tripura Road Transport Corporation (TRTC), operator of the Agartala-Dhaka bus service.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation and TRTC operate the bus services.
The Agartala-Dhaka bus service started in September 2003. Before that, the Kolkata-Dhaka bus service was introduced in July 1999.
“By bus or by train from Kolkata to Agartala via Dhaka takes around 18 hours. The bus fare is around Rs.1,600 and the rail fare is around Rs.500,” Chakraborty said.
Several hundred passengers, including serious patients, job seekers, students, bridegrooms and tourists have been stranded in Agartala, Kolkata and Guwahati in view of the non-availability of air tickets for want of aircraft.
“Since last year, eight airlines, including Jet Airways and SpiceJet, in a phased manner, stopped their operations on the Kolkata-Guwahati-Agartala route, causing enormous problems for passengers bound for these cities,” a senior official of the Airports Authority of India told IANS.
“Exploiting the situation, travel agencies in Agartala were booking air tickets in fake names and selling these to passengers at exorbitantly high prices,” Superintendent of Police (CID) Sanjoy Roy told IANS.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Tripura Police has launched a probe into the hoarding of flight tickets and manipulation of their rates.
“Following reports of bulk-booking of air tickets by a section of travel agencies, our officers have raided the offices of six agencies and collected all relevant documents. No one has yet been arrested,” Roy said.
Currently, only IndiGo and Air India are operating flights linking Agartala, Guwahati, Kolkata and New Delhi.
Tripura Transport Minister Manik Dey told IANS: “People of the state have to largely depend on air travel because of the tenuous road and rail connectivity.”
Dey, along with the members of parliament from Tripura, wrote a series of letters to Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusupati to urgently intervene.
“Air tickets available for the Agartala-Kolkata route for Rs.2,000 to Rs.3,000 are now being sold for Rs.8,500 to Rs.15,000 per ticket,” a travel agent said.
Train services between Tripura, Mizoram, parts of Manipur and southern Assam and the rest of the country were stopped from Oct 1 due to gauge conversion of railway lines. The century-old railway lines are being converted from metre gauge to broad gauge.
“The 18-month-long gauge conversion work from Assam’s Lumding to Agartala would continue till March 2016,” a North Frontier Railway official told IANS.
The railway line is broad gauge from Assam’s main city of Guwahati up to Lumding (in southern Assam). From Lumding, Tripura’s capital Agartala and western Manipur, Mizoram and southern Assam, the railway link with the rest of India was a single and 110-year-old metre gauge line.
Agartala came into the railway network in 2008.
The only other alternative is travelling in the horrific conditions of the mountainous National Highway 44, the lifeline that links Tripura to the rest of India.
In view of the closer railway services, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) recently ferried 10,000 tonnes of rice for Tripura in two phases from Visakhapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh via Bangladesh.
The FCI has taken steps to ferry another 35,000 tonnes of rice for Tripura via Bangladesh.
Earlier in 2012, Bangladesh had allowed state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to ferry heavy machinery, turbines and over-dimensional cargoes through Ashuganj port for the 726 MW Palatana mega power project in southern Tripura.
The transportation via Bangladesh is much easier as road connectivity is a big factor for the mountainous northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China.
There is only a narrow chicken-neck land corridor to the northeastern region from India through Assam and West Bengal but this route passes through hilly terrain with steep gradients and multiple hairpin bends, making plying of vehicles, especially loaded trucks, very difficult.
For instance, Agartala via Guwahati is 1,650 km from Kolkata by road and 2,637 km from New Delhi, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km.