Agartala/Kolkata: The Agartala-Kolkata bus service via Dhaka, formally flagged off on Saturday, has come as a boon for the people of the north eastern states and Kolkata, with medical treatment, jobs, education, tourism, trade and commerce all likely to get a big boost.
A cross section of commoners and experts IANS spoke to in Agartala and Kolkata seemed ecstatic at the Indo-Bangladesh initiative which has drastically reduced travel time between the two cities, making the journey affordable and smooth.
Due to linguistic and cultural reasons, Tripura and West Bengal - both predominantly Bengali speaking - share a special bond.
But till now, one had to cover a road distance of 1,650 km to travel between the capital cities of West Bengal and Tripura via Guwahati. However, the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is only around 515 km.
"I've so many relatives in Tripura. But due to the hassles of the long travel, and high cost of air tickets, I could meet them only at long intervals. But now, I hope we can see one another more frequently," Asim Sarkar, who runs a grocery store in South Kolkata's Tollygunge, told IANS.
Flagged off by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka, the new bus service would benefit all sections of the population - the serious patients, job seekers, students, traders and tourists to name a few.
Besides, it would also make it easier for people of the mountainous northeastern states, specially Tripura, adjoining southern Assam, Mizoram and northern Manipur, to visit the mainland Indian states, with the distance now being 1,135 km shorter.
"For the people of Tripura, southern Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, the Bangladesh route is the only secure, easier and cost effective option to go to Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of India," Sandip Saha, a trader in Agartala, told IANS.
Transportation via Bangladesh is smoother as road connectivity is a big factor for the mountainous terrain that characterises the northeastern states which share boundaries with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and China.
Apart from the Agartala-Dhaka-Kolkata bus service, the Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service, that was also flagged off , would benefit people of Assam, Meghalaya and adjoining states.
India-Bangladesh affairs expert and former Tripura legislatorTapas Dey said : "Before the partition of the country in 1947, the routes of the then East Bengal (now Bangladesh) had been used to ferry men and material between the northeast region and rest of India."
"If the connectivity between northeast India and rest of the country via Bangladesh is restored, not only will it strengthen people to people relations, But also give a fillip to trade and economy of the two countries and curb many illegal activities,a Dey, a frequent visitor of Bangladesh, told IANS.
"The little over 500 km long Dhaka-Sylhet-Tamabil-Dawki-Shillong-Guwahati bus service would also be very helpful for the people across the border to visit either side for medical treatment, education and doing business," Dey said.
Hundred of passengers, including serious patients, job seekers, students, bridegrooms and tourists have occasionally remained stranded in Agartala, Kolkata and Guwahati and other places due to non-availability of air tickets for want of aircraft.
"Since last year, eight private airlines, in a phased manner, stopped their operations on the Kolkata-Guwahati-Agartala route, causing enormous problems for passengers bound for these cities," a senior official of the Airports Authority of India told IANS.
"Exploiting the situation, travel agencies in Agartala were booking air tickets in fake names and selling these to passengers at VERY high prices," Tripura Superintendent of Police (CID) Sanjoy Roy told IANS.
Noted economist Dipankar Dasgupta called the new bus services as a "big step"
"I hope this will be the stepping stone towards ferrying of goods through the same route between Kolkata and Tripura. This will greatly benefit the north east. And West Bengal will also gain," Dasgupta, a professor of economics in the Indian Statistical Institute, told IANS.
He said the shortened travel will promote tourism both in Tripura and West Bengal as also Bangladesh.
"Tourists fromTripura can now travel to Kolkata more easily and vice versa. Similarly, it will also have a positive impact on tourism in Bangladesh .It's win-win situation for all stakeholders. And any boost to tourism, will give a boost to the economy."
Journalist Subhro Gupta, who hails from Tripura but is now settled in Kolkata for professional reasons, hailed the initiative, but felt the two governments should fix the cost of bus tickets keeping the interests of the masses in mind.
"I have read media reports that the ticket prices could be as high as Rs.2,000. Plus there could also be a tax of Rs 500. This is too exorbitant."
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Sirshendu Panth at email@example.com)