By Joymala Bagchi
Petrapole (West Bengal) [India], April 15: More than 350 porters of Petrapole, the last Integrated Check Post at the India-Bangladesh border that is to undergo polling on April 22, demand permit for carrying passenger's luggages like earlier till 'no man's land', which has been closed since lockdown last year.
When ANI team visited the porters here at Petrapole, they said although permission have been granted to porters of Bangladesh, but porters in the Indian side are still fighting at the local administrative level to solve this major issue, which is entwined with their livelihood.
Petrapole is the Indian side of Petrapole-Benapole border checkpoint between India and Benapole of Bangladesh, on the Bangladesh-India border, near Bongaon in North 24 Parganas district of the poll-bound West Bengal. It is the only land port in south Bengal and the largest land customs station in Asia.
The labours and the businesses at Petrapole are solely dependent on Bangladesh. Travellers from Bangladesh come to India for medical and tourism purposes and thus commute through buses or taxis till Kolkata, which is approx 85 kilometres.
Porters also stated that since lockdown mostly passengers from Bangladesh travel to India for medical purpose and their earning opportunity has become extremely limited and the present situation of not granting the permission to carry passengers' luggage till 'no man's land' has precisely affected their livelihood to a great extent.
A porter speaking to ANI said they are desperate for an immediate solution.
Timir Halder, a porter said, "Our livelihood is solely dependent on passengers coming from Bangladesh. Before lockdown we used to carry their luggage till 'no man's land'. However since lockdown we have been stopped by the authorities here in India. Earlier we used to earn atleast Rs 300 to 400 per day, however, now it has been reduced to Rs 70 to 100 since lockdown have been lifted. If everything is coming back to normal in India what is stopping government from granting us our permission? We are not demanding anything new."
'Petrapole Jibon Jibika Bachao Committee' (Save Petrapole lives and livelihood committee), which is set up solely to resolve these ongoing issues of the porters have staged several protests at the border that adversely affected export-import between India and Bangladesh.
Porters said although they have been assured of quick 'fixing of the matter at the highest administrative level' but till date their struggle has remained constant and observed that their condition is deteriorating each day.
Halder said letters have been given to district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate, Border Security Force, Customs, Immigration and Land Ports Authority of India (LPAI) from the committee but now "one is blaming the other and our condition is worsening."
Petrapole jibon jibika bachao committee member Gobindo Ghosh said, "Even after everything started crawling back to normalcy in India, we do not know under which ground 350 porters are stopped from what they used to do since ages. Several meetings took place with the authorities here at Petrapole but nothing actually changed."
Ghosh raised several questions, "These poor people are suffering a lot. 350 porters plus their families now count the numbers. Bangladesh has announced 14 days of lockdown. At present election is going on in West Bengal and we do not know if lockdown will be announced after election or not. Will they die in this manner? How will you survive in Rs 100 that too only when passengers are available and you have a family to look after?"
Following rise in COVID-19 cases, Bangladesh has observed a lockdown for atleast 14 days.
Election campaigning is underway on full swing with political parties focusing on local issues, however, porters say the real help would be if this issue could be raised and a solution is initiated.
TMC candidate Shyamal Ray here has been pitted against left front candidate Piyush Kanti Saha. Ashok Kettoniya is contesting from BJP.
A total of 294 Assembly seats are there in West Bengal of which 68 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 16 for the Scheduled Tribes.
Petrapole is scheduled to go for voting on April 22 during the sixth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections under North 24 Parganas (Part-II). Other districts which will go to polls under this phase are Purbo Bardhaman (Part-2), Nadia (Part-3), Uttar Dinajpur. A total of 43 Assembly seats to be contested in this phase. (ANI)