Cargo movement comes to a halt in Birgunj

Kathmandu, August 26

The indefinite Tarai bandh called by different Madheshi parties has completely halted movement of cargo vehicles from Birgunj, a major border point from where foreign goods enter Nepal, raising fears of shortage of different commodities in an import-dependent country.

With the halt in movement of vehicles, not many have arrived at the Inland Clearance Depot (ICD) in Birgunj to clear the consignments, creating shortage of room for storage of goods, said Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board (NITDB), which manages the Birgunj ICD.

The ICD in Birgunj houses cargoes forwarded via trains from the Kolkata dock. It has a space of 7,105 square metres to store containers and a space of 19,268 square metres to park other cargoes.

But due to the delay in clearance of consignments, many goods are now lying on racks that brought them from Kolkata, because there is no space for storage at the ICD. This, in turn, has prevented the racks from going back to Kolkata, slowing down the movement of goods.

During normal times, seven racks move back-and-forth from Birgunj ICD and Kolkata — the place where most of the Nepal-bound goods imported from third countries land. Each of the racks can house 45 to 54 containers of 40 feet in length, according to NITDB.

“But lately we have been able to send back only two racks, because goods have not been cleared from the others,” said NITDB.

While movement of racks that bring in goods to Birgunj has slowed down, consignments from third countries are continuously arriving at the dock in Kolkata; and they are lying stranded there.

“One of my consignments was supposed to move from Kolkata on August 8. But I have no clue on when it will be dispatched,” said President of Nepal Freight Forwarders Association Rajan Sharma, adding, “I believe around 700 containers bound for Nepal are currently lying in Kolkata.”

This, he added, is not only causing inconvenience to clients but increasing financial burden on freight forwarders like him.

Shipping companies provide a time frame of eight to 21 days to clear the consignments. “After that, demurrage charge of an average of $75 per container per day is levied. And if the containers have to be moved to container freight station, we have to pay extra to ferry them,” Sharma said.

Considering this situation, the only other option is to bring in goods from Kolkata  via road using cargo trucks.

“But it costs around Rs 30,000 more per container to ferry goods via road,” said Sharma. “On top of that, there is no guarantee that goods would be delivered on time even if they are moved through roads because cargo trucks have formed a queue as long as two km in Raxaul due to halt in vehicular movement in Birgunj. And even if they cross the border, we won’t be able to move them to other parts of the country because of the strike.”

Currently, the government is providing escort service to cargo vehicles headed for various destinations in the country.

“But we do not want to take the risk,” said Sharma, indicating the problem would be solved only if the protest programmes are called off. Areas in the vicinity of Birgunj have remained shut since August 15.