Revenue for state coffers through Nakugaon, in the northern bordering district of Sherpur, has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with international trading activities at the land port still only a fraction of levels witnessed till late March.
That is when the lockdowns imposed in both India and Bangladesh in response to the pandemic started coming into effect, although the decision to suspend trade altogether through the land ports came from the Indian side first.
As the first, and most damaging blow to revenue generation, Sanjay Sarkar, customs inspector of Nakugaon Land Port, said that all trading activities at the port remained fully suspended from March 19 to May 30 – almost a full quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal.
Trade through some other land ports such as Akhaura and Benapole, that were also suspended in late March, were able to resume earlier, either officially or unofficially.
In Nakungaon, trade did resume in June, but as with so many other activities that faced disruptions during the pandemic, only on a limited scale. And it has failed to pick up much at all in the period since.
It meant the revenue collected from the port in 2019-20, through tariffs on imports and other taxes, amounted to a miserly Tk 1.96 crore. Sanjay Sarkar said 48,685 MT of stones, 99 MT of coal and 12 MT of ginger were the items that entered the country through this land port during the fiscal that ended June 30. (MT=metric tonnes)
Overall trade between India and Bangladesh took a big hit from the pandemic. According to Bangladesh Bank data, the trade figure between the two countries for April and May ($421 million) amounted to just one-fifth of the corresponding figure from the same period last year.
The administrative officer of Nakugaon land port Ekramul Haque noted the import-export activities of the port were suspended for about 3 months due to the coronavirus.
“At that time traders could not import stones. Due to that the revenue income has declined a lot,” Ekramul said.If the pandemic had been avoided, the revenue would have increased by at least Tk 60 lakh, he estimates.
Moreover, the revenue income of the port has decreased due to India’s suspension of coal exports, according to Ekramul.
Not only has the revenue declined, the local staff of the land port became unemployed. After the Eid-ul-Azha holiday, import-export activities again resumed on a limited scale through Nakugaon land port from August 10. But the situation is far from bustling.
Akhter Hossain, a trader and member of Nakugaon Land Port Import-Export Association, said that now a small quantity of stone has been imported from India in compliance with the health rules. Once the Corona situation is brought under control, he believes business will rebound strongly.
He said in the past, coal was imported through this land port. Before this year’s closure due to “special reasons” (Covid-19), the process of importing coal was on again, he said.
“Traders would have benefited more if coal could have been imported with the stone. A large amount of revenue clouds have been deposited in the government treasury,” Akhter said.