Once a centre of trade and commerce, Chilmari river port in Kurigram has lost much of its appeal over the years. But traders and people dependent on the port have once again become optimistic as the government has taken a mega project to construct all necessary infrastructures to turn the river port into a full-fledged one.
After completion of the project, transportation of goods by river route at low cost will be possible, thus boosting the local economy and turning the port once against into a hub of trade and commerce.
Sources in the Kurigram district administration said the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority in February this year agreed in principle to take a Tk350 crore project to develop the port.
Under the project, the Brahmaputra river will be dredged to restore its navigability. Moreover, existing channels will be dug to link it with other rivers and the Bay of Bengal, said the sources.
Now a tender will be invited. When it is done, the full-scale activities will start to make the river port operational, the sources added.
Chilmari port, lying close to the international border with India, is located at the bank of the Brahmaputra river. The place which was once considered the port has shifted to Raman ghat or station now due to the wrath of river erosion over the years.
Bangladesh and India signed a river protocol agreement in 1972 for transporting goods through river routes. Now goods are exchanged with India on a limited scale, but the commercial activities between Chilmari river port and other parts of the country have remained suspended due to navigability crisis in the river.
Locals said the port was abuzz with activities once. Big ships carrying thousands of maunds of jute, paddy and rice would anchor the port. From the British period, water vessels would ply from Kolkata to Guwahati and Dhubri in Assam via Chilmari port.
They believe that if the port becomes fully functional, the local and national economy will be boosted and more jobs will be created for them.
Rahmat – a 55-year-old labourer who works in Ramna ghat area, the site for Chilmari river port – said, "Jute-laden ships used to anchor at the port even 15-16 years ago. Then we used to work here as labourers. But as the river gradually became lean, goods-laden ships cannot move here; they get stuck in the shoals. This is why, the port has become inoperative."
Some other labourers working in the ghat – Khaybor, Taleb, and Jamal – also opined the same. They said they will have more opportunities to earn a livelihood if the port becomes fully functional again.
Moreover, big warehouses were built in Chilmari centring the port once. Big and reputed jute companies would open offices in Chilmari and purchase the commodities. Businessmen and traders from different areas used to come to the port to buy goods.
Khorshed Ali, a trader at Ramna ghat, said trade and commerce in the district will get a boost if Chilmari port becomes functional again.
The goods, which are now being transported by road at a higher cost, will then be transported at a low cost by river route, he said. Transporting through river route will benefit the traders as well as keep the prices of goods affordable for the consumers.
This is worth mentioning that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while addressing a rally in Kurigram on September 7, 2016 announced that Chilmari port will be developed into a full-fledged river port.
Following that, the then shipping minister Shahjahan Khan on September 23 same year inaugurated renovation work in Ramna Ghat area at Chilmari.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority then took a project to further develop the port. But no visible progress took place since then.
Contacted, Kurigram Deputy Commissioner Sultana Parveen said work for the project is well under way now.
The project will soon start once other formalities are completed, she added.