Railway movement catches up for ICD operations

Indra Gurung

Kolkata, January 16:

With operational of Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Sirsiya, Birgunj some six months ago, railway movement for transporting the third country imports via Kolkata port is catching up thanks to cost effectiveness and predictable journey.

However, lack of adequate volume of cargo and other operational difficulties by local customs agents in Kolkata port have raised question over successful operation of the World Bank funded multi-million dollar dry port, in long term. “Although the exports from Nepal has not been able pick up remarkably, the imports have become a major source of operation of the dry port thus increasing railway movement between Kolkata and Sirsiya-Birgunj port,” says Dr Govinda Prasad Kusum, Nepali consul general in Kolkata.

He also informed that the number of train movement is in increasing order over the last six months and customs procedures have also been simplified. “The Kolkata Consulate General is constantly in touch with the concerned authorities here in India and Nepal to facilitate trade and other relations,” he added. At present, the cargo rail movement is only in between Kolkata and Birgunj and the extension to Haldiya port is on card. He also said that the problems such as pilferage of goods and insecure journey like in road transportation have been reduced, ensuring the predictable journey at low cost. “We are considering to set up an office in Bihar along the railway route, to facilitate trade and transit,” he informed, adding that the office would look after any problem regarding transportation and transit in Bihar, as most of the goods have to travel through the state.

Kusum also informed that an understanding has been reached in between the West Bengal government and Nepal to set up a well-equipped laboratory at nearby border town such as Silguri or Panitanki, to facilitate exports of agro-produces from Nepal.

Due to the lack of laboratory at nearby bordering towns, the exports of Nepali agro-produces often face difficulties like quarantine and other lab tests. The exporters are compelled to go to Kolkata or other major cities for the tests. The products such as ginger, cardamom, tea, pulses and other agricultural products have not been able to be exported smoothly due to the problem. However, R B Rauniyar, director of Himalayan Terminals Pvt Ltd, which operates the ICD, said that the transit cost could be reduced up to 40 per cent, while importing and exporting goods through the dry-port using railway. Citing current operations, he claimed, “One can save up to Rs 20,000 per container while trading through the dry port.”

“The railway traffic has been gradually increasing. The number of containers in a month has touched 800 in the sixth months of operation from 200 containers on July-August,” he informed. There has been at least three train movement every week between Kolkata port and the Birgunj ICD.

“The customs clearance agents based in Kolkata want all the procedures and customs clearance to be done in Kolkata. If all these procedural works are transferred to the Birgunj ICD, they will lose their commission, which they used to charge from Nepali traders,” said an official the Nepali consulate in Kolkata. He was also of the opinion that the Himalayan Terminals should promote and market the benefits of the ICD, and also be alert and active for increased use of ICD and increase the volume of exports from Nepal.