- Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Aug 19 2019
India is in the process of establishing Integrated Check-Posts (ICPs) at selected checkpoints along land borders with its neighbours, for the efficient management of border crossings. The ICPs are aimed at facilitating cross-border trade and movement of people. As of 2019, 20 checkpoints have been identified for development as ICPs, of which half are on the India–Bangladesh border. This report studies the impact of the ICPs on activities along this border. It analyses the shortcomings of the ICPs and suggests ways of improving their efficiency.
Attribution: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “Integrated Check-Posts on the India-Bangladesh Border: A Field Survey and Brief Analysis”, ORF Special Report No. 96, August 2019, Observer Research Foundation.
Border checkpoints are an integral part of border management. They are usually managed by officials responsible for inspecting and facilitating the legitimate cross-border movement of people and goods, while preventing any unauthorised passage.
Efficient border checkpoints are crucial for promoting regional trade, an area in which South Asia is lagging. Inadequate infrastructure at border checkpoints is one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of trade, as it hinders the movement of both goods and people in and out of neighbouring countries. Currently, South Asia’s intra-regional trade is a mere five percent of the region’s total global trade. Thus, conditions at the border checkpoints must be improved to improve India’s ties with neighbouring countries, and in particular, trade and people-to-people relations.
As part of efforts to improve the infrastructure at border checkpoints, India is developing Integrated Check-Posts (ICPs). An ICP is intended to be a one-stop solution that houses all regulatory agencies, such as immigration, customs and border security. So far, 20 border checkpoints in India have been designated as ICPs, of which half are located along the India–Bangladesh border. The development of the ICP infrastructure has been planned in two phases: seven have been developed in Phase-1, of which six are now operational; the rest are to be developed in Phase-2. Two of the first seven ICPs are at Agartala and Petrapole on India’s border with Bangladesh.
This report uses a qualitative approach to analyse the conditions of the ICPs on the India–Bangladesh border. Fieldwork was undertaken at four ICPs located in Petrapole (West Bengal), Agartala (Tripura), Dawki (Meghalaya) and Sutarkandi (Assam). Their study revealed the issues and challenges faced by the ICPs at different phases of development. Extensive interviews were conducted with the stakeholders to collect data, which was then analysed.
These ICPs were selected because they cover the maximum number of states bordering Bangladesh. The ICPs in Petrapole and Agartala have already been developed and are operational; the Dawki ICP is under construction; and the one is Sutarkandi is to be developed in Phase-2.
India–Bangladesh Relations: Key Elements
India and Bangladesh share strong trade and economic relations. Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia (see Annexure 1), and the bilateral trade between the two countries is worth US$10 billion. Moreover, Bangladesh is one of the largest contributors to India’s tourism industry (see Annexure 2). The Indian High Commission in Bangladesh issues more than one million visas annually, amongst the highest numbers issued by Indian missions globally. Most of these are tourist visas, and the majority of these visitors enter India through the land border.
Trade and connectivity are crucial to bilateral ties. In this regard, India has taken some key initiatives to further its relations with Bangladesh. These include the provision for duty-free entry of Bangladeshi products into Indian markets, investments in the development of infrastructure in Bangladesh, and the simplification of the visa process. Such steps encourage, and are likely to increase, the cross-border movement of people and goods.
India is also focused on strengthening regional connectivity using platforms that promote regional cooperation, such as the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal). Both India and Bangladesh are signatories to the BBIN-Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA). Once functional, this agreement will enable the unrestricted movement of vehicles from the member countries within the BBIN region, via designated routes, including cross-border ones. This further necessitates the development of border checkpoint facilities on India’s border with Bangladesh.
Situation at the Border
India and Bangladesh were once part of one territory before being broken up by the Radcliffe Line, drawn in 1947 for the Partition of India. With the division of British India into two countries, Bangladesh became part of Pakistan. It was referred to as “East Pakistan,” until it declared independence in 1971.
Currently, India shares the longest land border with Bangladesh, stretching over 4,096.9 km. This boundary falls in five Indian states—West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura—and runs through a diverse topography, including dense forests, hills, river, populous towns and paddy fields.
Table 1: Indian States that Share a Border with Bangladesh
|Indian States||Length of Border (in Kilometres)|
Source: Home Ministry Annual Report 2017–18, Government of India.
Indians and Bangladeshis are united by shared ancestry, linguistic and ethnic ties, and social and familial linkages. This makes the border between the two countries porous and difficult to manage, which in turn facilitates transnational crime networks in running criminal activities across the border, primarily smuggling (of narcotics, arms, gold, and counterfeit Indian currency) and trafficking (of humans and cattle).
To prevent such illegal activities, India has adopted a policy of ‘guarding and regulating’ to secure its Bangladesh border. To guard the boundary, barbed-wire fencing has been erected on the border and floodlights installed in adjacent areas. Further, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel are stationed at the border as the first line of defence. To regulate border activities, land customs stations (LCS), inland customs ports and immigration checkpoints have been set up at designated entry and exit points. The movement of both goods and people are routed through either LCS or inland customs ports.
The nature of bilateral relations between two neighbouring countries determines one’s approach towards its border with the other. The India–Bangladesh bilateral relations have been strained for a long time, due to Bangladesh’s inaction regarding the insurgent groups in the northeastern states of India, who were using the neighbouring country as a hideout and from where they were running illegal activities across the border. The bilateral relationship transformed after the Awami League came to power in 2009 and took action against such groups. Today, India and Bangladesh share a warmer and more cordial relationship, and the ICPs are reflective of this. While security remains the primary concern, India is also working on widening its cooperation with Bangladesh through trade and connectivity. The ICPs are crucial for both.
Integrated Check-Posts: An Overview
The ICPs are sanitised zones at border crossings, with adequate passenger and freight-processing facilities. They integrate three main border-related functions:
- Customs: For the clearance of cargo/goods carried by vehicles, valuable personal items of passengers, and currency by monitoring mechanism and installed equipment.
- Immigration: For the checking of passports, visas and passenger identification.
- Border Security: For maintaining security, preventing the flow of illegal arms and other lethal weapons, and providing backup support to customs and immigration.
The ICPs are aimed at facilitating the systematic, seamless and secure cross-border movement of goods and people by ensuring efficient passenger flow, providing adequate passenger facilities, smoothening processes, optimising the use of facilities, systemising support facilities, and improving traffic flow.
To encourage trade, the ICPs must have the following facilities: warehouse and open yards for the storage of goods; parking facilities for the smooth flow of traffic and cargo; in-house weighing facilities for trucks; and security for the goods to prevent pilferage at the warehouses. To facilitate the passage of people, the ICPs must include under one roof the following: immigration, customs, security, taxation authorities, animal quarantine, warehouses, cargo and baggage examination yards, parking zones, banks, post offices, communication facilities, tourist information centres, waiting halls, canteens or refreshment stalls, public conveniences and primary health provision.
Thus, for an ICP to be efficient, multiple stakeholders must be involved, including the Central Board of Indirect Taxes, immigration officials, border guarding forces, food safety departments, banks and warehousing authorities.
The Land Port Authority of India (LPAI)—a statutory body established under the LPAI Act, 2010—is responsible for the efficient management of the ICPs. It falls under the purview of the Border Management Department of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) and is tasked with developing, sanitising and managing the facilities for cross-border movement, at the designated points along the international border of India.
Table 2: List of ICPs on India’s Borders with Neighbouring Countries
|S. No.||ICPs||State||Bordering Country||Status|
|1||Atari||Punjab||Pakistan||Operationalised13 April 2012|
|2||Agartala||Tripura||Bangladesh||Operationalised17 November 2013|
|3||Petrapole||West Bengal||Bangladesh||Operationalised12 February 2016|
|4||Raxaul||Bihar||Nepal||Operationalised3 June 2016|
|5||Jogbani||Bihar||Nepal||Operationalised15 January 2016|
|6||Moreh||Manipur||Myanmar||Operationalised15 November 2018|
|7||Dawki||Meghalaya||Bangladesh||Foundation stone laid on 24 January 2017;Under construction as of 2019|
|8||Jaigaon||West Bengal||Bhutan||To be developed (TBD)|
Note: The first seven ICPs listed in the table are part of Phase-1 and the rest will be developed in Phase-2. The ICPs that are highlighted are on the India–Bangladesh border.
Source: Land Port Authority of India.
The India–Bangladesh land border caters to 75 percent of the imports from and 50 percent of the exports to Bangladesh. Moreover, for the movement of people between the two countries, the land border is the preferred route.
Table 3: The Passage of Goods (2016–17) and People (2016) through the ICPs on the India–Bangladesh Border
|S. No.||ICPs||State||Trade Value, 2016–17(INR Cr)||No. of Passengers, 2016|
Sources: Land Port Authority of India.
Before the ICPs
The ICPs are being established in place of the existing LCS. The India–Bangladesh border has around 38 LCS (see Annexure 3), which have been the major sites of cross-border movement between the two countries. As mentioned earlier, an ideal border-crossing point must have regulatory agencies such as customs and immigration as well as facilities for parking, quarantine, and storage.
However, the India–Bangladesh LCS lack such facilities, which has impeded trade growth. Poor facilities have made border-crossing time-consuming and costly. Average time delay for a single shipment, for instance, is four days. Such delays, in turn, result in increased transaction cost, estimated to be around 10 percent of the total shipment. Not a single LCS between India and Bangladesh offers services that are comparable to international standards.
For instance, Petrapole—the most important border checkpoint between India and Bangladesh—suffers from infrastructure deficit. These include communication constraints, absence of testing labs or distantly located labs, inadequate storage facilities for perishable goods and poor goods-handling facilities.
Case Studies: The ICPs in Sutarkandi, Dwaki, Agartala, Petrapole
Sutarkandi is located in Assam, 10 km away from the district town of Karimganj. The corresponding area in Bangladesh is Shaola in the Sylhet district. Around 20 trucks move across Sutarkandi every day, and in 2016, INR 140 crore worth of trade was conducted via this border.
The checkpoint infrastructure in Sutarkandi is set to be developed in Phase-2. Currently, the ICP operates from the International Trade Centre complex, which was inaugurated in the 2000s but remains minimally operational. Facilities are rudimentary, with no testing laboratories or quarantine areas available.
Dawki is located in the West Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya, 55 km from the district headquarters, Jowai, and about 84 km from Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya and one of India’s most popular tourist destination. Its proximity to Shillong makes Dawki an important land border crossing in Northeast India. While most people crossing this border are Indian or Bangladeshi citizens, Dawki is also open for third-country nationals to enter and exit India. The corresponding area in Bangladesh is Tamabil in the Sylhet district.
The ICP facilities are currently under construction, and an LCS is operational. Some of the facilities that the Dawki ICP is earmarked to include are customs, immigration, passenger terminals, security and surveillance, import and export warehouses, cargo terminal buildings, loose-cargo areas, quarantine areas, parking slots, rummaging sheds, weighbridges, banks, foreign-exchange bureaus, public health offices, cafeterias, electric substations and toilet blocks.
Table 4: Trade Statistics, 2012–15
|Year||Export(INR Cr)||Import(INR Cr)||Trade(INR Cr)||Cargo Vehicles(INR Cr)|
Source: Land Port Authority of India.
Major exports through Dawki include coal, limestone, rawhide and boulder stone. Major imports include food items, plastic furniture, geo-textile sheets, tissue paper, laundry soap, PVC doors and fire-clay bricks.
Agartala is the capital city of Tripura, and Akhaura in the Brahmanbaria district is the corresponding area in Bangladesh. The Agartala ICP has been operational since 2013. This is an urban ICP within the municipal area, and the facilities available include a passenger terminal, a public health office, a cargo building, a warehouse, an inspection shed, a plant-quarantine area, a parking area and a loose-cargo area.
The Agartala ICP is an important trade route between India and Bangladesh and is responsible for INR 190 crore worth of annual trade on average. The major imports include crushed stone, lay flat tubes, float glass and cement, with stone chips being predominantly handled at Agartala. The main items of export include bamboo, dry fish and dry chilli. The annual customs revenue realisation is approximately INR 5.5 crores.
Petrapole is located in the North 24 Parganas district, and its ICP is 80 km from Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. The corresponding area in Bangladesh is Benapole in the Jessore district in Khulna region. The foundation stone for the Petrapole ICP was laid on 19 August 2011, and the cargo complex has been operational since 12 February 2016.
The facilities available at the ICP include customs, a cargo terminal, import and export warehouses, a quarantine block, a public health office, weighbridges, a public utilities block, banks and ATMs, an electricity substation, a foreign-exchange bureau, a parking area, a cafeteria, a rummaging shed and a dormitory building.
The Petrapole border crossing is one of the busiest LCS in Asia, and a significant portion of the Indo–Bangladesh land-border trade happens via this ICP. Thus, the Petrapole border is operational round the clock, all seven days of the week.
Table 5: Trade Statistics, 2014–19
|Year||Export(INR Cr)||Import(INR Cr)||Trade(INR Cr)||Cargo Vehicles(No.)|
Source: Land Port Authority of India.
The major items of export include cotton fabrics, synthetic fibres, motor vehicle chassis, two-wheelers (motorcycles and scooters), non-alloy steel, machinery parts, yarn, books and papers, iron and steel products, cereals and other food products. The major imports include jute products, knitted fabrics, betel nut, rice bran, fish, zinc plates, cotton rags, lead, readymade garments, re-processed plastic agglomerate.
Integrated Check-posts: Impact and Challenges
The ICPs have transformed border-crossing between India and Bangladesh by bringing in all the concerned agencies under one roof and thus substantially organising the processes. Where the facilities are operational, cross-border movement has become easier and less time-consuming. At Agartala and Petrapole, passengers reported improved conditions at the checkpoints. Some benefits of the ICPs, as noted by the interviewees in this field survey, include the following:
- Relatively increased efficiency in the inspection and release of goods;
- Improved quality of the services rendered by border agencies; and
- Expedited border-crossing and improved flow management.
However, there is room for improvement in several areas, to further tap into the potential of the ICPs.
During the fieldwork, several infrastructure flaws were observed near the ICPs, which restrict their efficacy. For instance, the narrow approach road in Petrapole results in massive congestion in the vicinity, increasing the travel time from Kolkata to the border. Further, cargo and passenger terminals have been separated in Petrapole. The facilities available in the passenger terminal are insufficient for the volume of passengers it handles daily. This is evident in the long queues of passengers outside the terminal every day. Passengers have to stand for a long time, causing immense discomfort. This situation is further exacerbated during the monsoon season due to the lack of any shelter or shade.
There is also a disparity in infrastructure across the border, which hinders the efficient functioning of the ICPs. For example, the parking at the Petrapole ICP can accommodate around 2,000 trucks a day, whereas Bangladesh can handle only 450. Thus, there is a perpetual backlog. In areas close to Petrapole, thousands of trucks could be seen waiting. Consequently, Bangaon (a village 7 km from the Petrapole ICP) has turned into a bustling town and parking for trucks has become a source of revenue for the panchayat. The parking charges are often high.
A truck from India that enters Bangladesh via an ICP should ideally return within the same day. However, the trucks that enter Benapole have to wait for a day or two because of insufficient infrastructure, before they can return to Petrapole. Additionally, poor law and order results in miscreants harassing the drivers and tampering with their cargo.
Scanning and Inspections
Currently, the ICPs lack sufficient screening facilities. There are no technological tools to scan the trucks crossing the border for loading and unloading of goods. The goods are inspected manually, which is not a reliable method. Moreover, the BSF, which is in charge of border security and monitoring the ICPs, are only sanctioned to check the permits for the trucks entering/exiting, not the cargo. Such loopholes, according to experts, allow malicious groups to conduct unlawful activities across the border.
One of the most significant uses of technology for goods inspection are baggage scanning machines. However, during this authors’ fieldwork, such scanners, where available, were frequently found to be non-functional. ICP officials expressed the need for increasing the use of technology in surveillance and monitoring of the goods and people crossing the border. Manual inspection is not only inefficient, but also not received well by many passengers. The criminal network takes advantage of this to smuggle goods such as narcotics and gold. For instance, legal passengers are often used to smuggle gold using innovative methods such as concealment in snack boxes. The security forces have to rely mostly on intuition to detect such perpetrators.
During the interviews conducted by this author, some of the local residents claimed that illegal immigrants often take up jobs in the facilities near the ICPs. Trucks can enter ICPs across the border using simple photograph-based paper permits allotted to the drivers, which can be tampered with. The locals expressed concerns about security, since the personnel at the ICP gates are not equipped to verify the authenticity of these documents. The veracity of these claims could not be corroborated. Recently, India and Bangladesh agreed to issue electronic passes to truck drivers at Petrapole. This is a step in the right direction and must be implemented at all the ICPs to reinforce border security and allay the concerns of local citizens.
The ICP immigrations are handled by multiple agencies, e.g. the Bureau of Immigration, the central body under the MoHA, is in charge of the Petrapole and Hilli but not the rest of the ICPs. Thus, there is no common record for the people entering or exiting via land-border checkpoints. This restricts the movement of legitimate passengers to specific ICPs. To increase the flexibility of movement and ease of tracking, the government must develop a central database on priority.
Use of ICT
Currently, none of the ICPs studied employ adequate information and communication technology (ICT). High-speed digital connectivity is needed to optimise ICT usage. However, since the ICPs are located in remote areas, they receive low-speed of bandwidth. According to experts, poor digital connectivity will negatively affect the performance of the Single Window System (SWS), which is necessary for paperless trade. Notably, facilitating the effective implementation of the SWS is amongst the facilities planned for the ICPs; the system will help improve not only cross-border trade but also India’s ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
India and Bangladesh have begun their bilateral discussions to address the various issues in border management.
The establishment of the ICPs on the India–Bangladesh border reflects India’s willingness to provide world-class facilities at the border checkpoint to promote trade and connectivity with its neighbour. The Agartala and Petrapole ICPs have led to substantial development; however, much more work remains to be done. The government can draw lessons from the existing ICPs to avoid replicating their flaws and thus improving those that are yet to be developed. In the future, efficient ICPs will be crucial to India’s trade and connectivity with Bangladesh. India must therefore focus on consistently upgrading the facilities in a timely manner.
This report recommends the following specific measures to address the current issues around the ICPs along the India-Bangladesh border:
- Increasing the use of technology for scanning and monitoring purposes, especially the installation of cargo scanners to prevent pilferage.
- Improving support infrastructure to ensure optimal use of technology, e.g. enhancing digital connectivity and better budget allocation for the maintenance of technological tools.
- Early issuance of smart cards for the drivers who provide their services in the ICPs.
- Streamlining immigration by developing a centralised database. Further, immigration across ICPs should be brought under the aegis of a single agency.
- Furthering cooperation between state governments to improve infrastructure such as roads and land acquisition. Institutionalising dialogue between state authorities and the union government will help to better address the concerns of the states and find ways to increase cooperation. Moreover, since the ICPs involve multiple agencies, a framework must be established to formalise the interaction amongst such agencies. This will ensure the smooth functioning of ICPs.
Annex 1: India’s Trade with South Asian Countries (In US$ millions)
Source: Compiled from Export-Import Data Bank, Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, last updated on August 6, 2019, https://commerce-app.gov.in/eidb/.
Annex 2: Top 10 Source Countries for Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India in 2016
Source: India’s Tourism Statistics at a Glance, Ministry of Tourism Government of India, 2017.
Annex 3: India’s Land Custom Stations on its Border with Bangladesh
|LCS in India||State||LCS Bangladesh|
|Karimganj Steamer and Ferry Station||Assam||Zakiganj|
|Mahisasan Railway Station||Assam||Sahabajpur|
|Dhubri Steamer Ghat||Assam||Rohumari|
|Guwahati Steamer Ghat||Assam||Rohumari|
|Dhalai Ghat||Tripura||Kumar Ghat|
|Old Raghnabazar||Tripura||Betuli (Fultali)|
|Gitaldaha||West Bengal||Mogul Hatt|
|Mahadipur||West Bengal||Sina Masjid|
|Rana Ghat||West Bengal||Darshana|
|T.T. Shed Khidderpore||West Bengal||Kulna|
Source: Compiled using data from Doing Business with Bangladesh, High Commission of India Dhaka, March 2019 and Ministry of DONER, Government of India.
 “The Potential of Intra-regional Trade for South Asia”, The World Bank, 24 May 2016.
 India’s Tourism Statistics at a Glance: 2017, Ministry of Tourism Government of India.
 Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organisation of the Bay of Bengal region connecting South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
 The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) is a subregional initiative of countries in Eastern South Asia.
 T. Haikip, “Development of integrated check posts with special reference to Moreh,” The Sangai Express, 15 March 2013.
 Shantanu Nadan Sharma, “India has a Rs 4500-crore border business plan in the making,” The Economic Times, 14 October 2018.
 India–Bangladesh Trade Potentiality: An Assessment of Trade Facilitation Issues, Cuts International, 2014.
 Ibid., 11.
 Prabir De and Biswa N. Bhattacharyay, “Prospects of India–Bangladesh Economic Cooperation: Implications for South Asian Regional Cooperation,” ADB Institute Discussion Paper 78, September 2007.
 “The Single Window concept refers to a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit related regulatory requirements.”
See, Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “Single Window Implementation Issues and Considerations,” in Compendium on Indo-Myanmar Border Management (EBH Publisher, 2019), 130.
 Consultation amongst the chief of border guards of India and Bangladesh regarding matters of border security; meetings of customs officials to address cross-border trade and trade facilitation issues; and meetings between chief administrators of districts for discussions on border issues.
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is a Senior Fellow with ORF’s Neighbourhood Regional Studies Initiative. She specialises in India’s neighbourhood policy, especially the eastern arch; Bangladesh’s domestic politics and foreign policy; border management; conflict and conflict resolution in India’s Northeast; and gender concerns.