How India plans to use Bangladesh's rivers to unlock its landlocked Northeast?

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Sometime this week, MV Maheshwari carrying 53 containers will leave the Haldia port near Kolkata for Pandu port in Guwahati, carrying freight for Hindustan Petrochemicals and Adani Wilmar. Shipping secretary Gopal Krishna will likely flag off the vessel. Over 12-15 days, it will cover 1,489 kilometres, passing through

Bangladesh

, along the well-worn

Indo-Bangladesh river trading route

at first, and then traversing a little-used course that could dramatically alter the connectivity to the northeast of India.

India’s northeast is a prisoner of geography. Landlocked and ring-fenced by neighbours such as China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, its lone land-based connection with the rest of India is narrow—the 22-km wide ‘chicken’s neck’ in Siliguri—and strategically speaking, easy to disrupt. This means the land-based networks of transport and trade, the lifelines through which goods, progress and prosperity flow, are limited, far-flung and congested.

India has always thought of this problem as having a two-pronged solution. One, activate the river networks in this area to boost maritime trade. Secondly, one of the southern points of the northeast, Agartala, is tantalisingly close to the ocean—just 200 km away, separated by foreign territory. Land-based access to ports there will hugely boost connectivity. But the execution of both parts hinges on Bangladesh and have been tied up in bureaucratic wrangling.

Earlier this month, when Prime Minister

Sheikh Hasina

visited New Delhi....

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