Promoting trade and connectivity have been a major focus of India’s neighbourhood policy. Efficient management of the checkpoint considered to play a crucial role in this respect. Easy cross border movement of goods and people provides a stimulus for growth of ing trade. Currently, India has initiated the work on improving the infrastructure at the border checkpoints by developing Integrated Check Posts (ICP) in the existing Land Custom Stations (LCS). 20 LCSs have been designated as ICPs in the entire length of its border with all its neighbours. Out of the 20 ICPs, 10 are in India’s border with Bangladesh. Infrastructures at the ICPs are promoted in two phases. In the first phase, 7 of the ICPs are being developed and 6 of them are operational already. Two of the first 7 ICPs-Agartala and Petrapole are in India’s border with Bangladesh. Considering the largest number of ICPs are in the Bangladesh border, a close analysis of the ICPs will provide an insight into challenges India facing in developing the border checking points.
ICPs are envisioned to provide adequate passenger and freight process facilities under one roof at the border checkpoints. ICP aims to integrate three main border-related functions- customs, immigration and border security.
Customs- clearance of cargo/goods carried by vehicles, valuable personal items of passengers, and currency by monitoring mechanism and installed equipment.
Immigration- checking of passport, visas and passenger identification.
Border Security- maintaining security, preventing the flow of illegal arms and other lethal weapons, and providing backup support to customs and immigration.
The primary function of ICP is to facilitate systematic, seamless and secure cross-border movement of goods and people by ensuring efficient passenger flow, providing adequate passenger facilities, smoothening process, optimising the use of facilities, systematising support facilities, and improving traffic flow.
To promote trade ICPs should provide facilities including- warehouse and open yards for the storage of goods, parking facilities for smooth flow of trucks; in-house weighing facilities for trucks; and prevent security for the goods to prevent pilferage at the warehouse. Facilities for movement of the people include-immigration and customs all under one roof. A model ICP should have facilities including- immigration, customs, security, taxation authorities, animal quarantine, warehouses, cargo and baggage examination yards, parking zones, banks post offices, communication facilities, tourist information centres, waiting for halls, canteens refreshment stalls, public convenience, health service.
Involvement of multiple stakeholders required to enhance the efficiency of the ICPs. Key stakeholders are- Central Board of Indirect Taxes, Immigration officials, Border Guarding forces, Food safety departments, Banks, Warehousing authorities, Plant quarantine etc. Government of India established the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI) for management of ICPs. LPAI falls under the Border Management Department of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and is responsible for developing, sanitising and managing the facilities at the designated checkpoints along India’s border with neighbours.
List of ICPs in the India’s borders with neighbours
The ICPs are developed in two phases. 1to 7 are part to phase-1 and 8 to 20 are to be developed in phase-2. The ICPs highlighted in blue are in the Bangladesh border
India’s Border with Bangladesh
India has international borders with countries like- Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Amongst its neighbours, India shares the longest border with Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh have around 4096 kilometres of the border running through five of the Indian states including -West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. It is worthy to note that India and Bangladesh were one before the partition of India in 1947. Post-1947, Bangladesh became part of Pakistan until it was liberated in 1971. Due to their historical linkages, the two countries share the commonality of language, culture, familial connect and economic links.
Bangladesh is India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia with bilateral trade worth $10 billion. Besides, Bangladesh is one of the largest sources of tourists in India. India’s largest visa service globally is in Dhaka. The Indian mission in Bangladesh issues around 1 million visas annually.
Most of the trade and movement of the people takes place by the land border. India-Bangladesh land border caters to 75 per cent of the imports from and 50 of the exports to Bangladesh. The facilities in the border checkpoints play a key role in the smooth movement of the people and goods.
India’s Border check points before ICP
There are around 38 checkpoints in the border with Bangladesh for entry and exit of goods and people across India and Bangladesh border. The infrastructure in these points is insufficient to deal with the flow of the people and goods that passes across the border. The inadequate facilities not only made border crossing cumbersome but also escalated the transaction cost of doing business.
Before the ICPs, the average time delay for a shipment of cargo was four days. None of the LCS provided facilities comparable to an excellent standard. The condition at the Petrapole, the biggest LCS in the India-Bangladesh border is a case in point. A major lacuna in Petrapole included- communication constraint, absence of testing facilities, inadequate storage facilities for perishable goods and poor goods handling facilities.
Impact of ICPs
Facilities in the ICPs in Agartala and Petrapole became operational in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Facilities available in Agartala are- Passenger Terminal Cargo Building, Warehouses, Inspection Shed, Plant Quarantine, Health Parking Facilities, Loose Cargo Area, Driver Rest Area, etc. Facilities available at Petrapole- Cargo Terminal, Import Warehouse, Export Warehouse, Customs Service Building, Quarantine block, Public Health office, Weigh Bridges, Public Utilities Block, Banks/ATM, Electric Sub Station, Foreign Exchange Bureau, Parking Area for Vehicles, Cafeteria, Rummaging Sheds, Dormitory Building.
Experiences at the Agartala and Petrapole suggests some improvement in the border crossing between India and Bangladesh. Some of the preliminary impressions suggest ICPs- Relatively increased efficiency in the inspection and release of good, improved quality of services rendered by borer agencies and expedited border-crossing improved flow managed. Still, there is scope for further improvement to exploits their potential to the optimal.
Challenges facing ICPs
Importance of infrastructure
Development of the infrastructure both within the ICPs and in the surrounding areas is a necessity for ICPs to perform to its fullest potential. Absence of appropriate infrastructure like roads results in traffic hazards, which influence traffic flow. For example, the road connecting Petrapole to Kolkata, a metropolis in India located 80 kilometres from the border and a major destination of goods and people, is narrow causing massive congestion.
Similarly, in Petrapole a separate cargo terminal constructed, however, the facilities in the passenger terminal are not sufficient to handle the flow of people. Often-long ques seen outside the passenger terminal. It is worthy to note that Petrapole is one of the busiest border checkpoints in Asia with around 2 million people passing through this border point.
Again, the asymmetry of infrastructure across the border affects the performance of the ICPs. Parking at the Petrapole can accommodate 2000 Trucks a day, while the parking in Benapole, the corresponding checkpoint in Bangladesh, could accommodate only 450 trucks daily. Thus, there is always a backlog of trucks. Synergising the standard of the infrastructure across the border will contribute to enhancing the performance of the ICPs.
Use of Technology
Of late, substantial emphasis given on the use of technology for border management in India. In this regard, the ICPs expected to use technology, primarily, for scanning and inspection. There is hardly any technological tools available for scanning of the trucks crossing the border for loading and unloading purposes. Mostly, inspection is conducted manually which is not reliable and often give space for pilferage. Baggage scanner is the most dominant sign of technology for inspecting goods and baggage of the passengers. Such scanners frequently found to be non-functional.
Increasing the use of technology for surveillance will help to enhance efficiency in monitoring and inspections in the ICPs. Absence of technological support often provides opportunities to criminal groups to use such points for smuggling of narcotics, gold etc. There have been instances where legitimate passengers used to smuggle goods like gold.
A major obstacle for the smooth functioning of the ICPs has been poor digital connectivity. Implementing a single-window system is a major goal of ICPs to facilitate trade but apprehensions persist about its success due to poor availability of the broadband connectivity. High-speed internet connectivity is required for the success of the ICPs.
In spite of the challenges, ICPs display India’s willingness to promote world-class infrastructure at the checkpoints for supporting cross border trade and movement of people. Experiences in the Agartala and Petrapole suggests a significant improvement in the conditions at the border crossing at the India and Bangladesh border. Since most of the ICPs are yet to be developed, lessons could be drawn from the existing ICPs and rectified accordingly. India should concentrate on upgrading the infrastructure timely. Additionally, the focus should be given on deepening use of technology for efficient management of the ICPs. The state of infrastructure at the checkpoints in the border crossing will transform significantly after all the ICPs are functional and optimism is riding high about its positive impact in future.
By Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Author is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Views expressed are authors personal. (This article is based on a report “Integrated Check Post on the India-Bangladesh Border: A Field Survey and Brief” by the author published at orfonline.org.)