Linking land borders: India’s integrated check posts
The abysmal level of regional integration in South Asia - a mere five per cent according to the World Bank - has its roots in the lack of quality infrastructure. This has led to high logistics cost and increased the overall cost of trading in the region. India’s land-based trade with its neighbours is facilitated by different kinds of border management infrastructure including, Land Customs Stations (LCSs), Immigration Check Posts (ImCPs), and consolidated facilities like Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) and other border-trade centres. The ICPs are entry and exit points on the land borders and house various facilities such as customs, immigration, and border security, quarantine, among others, within a single facilitation zone. In 2019-20, 40% of India’s total trade with Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan took place through the six ICPs at Agartala, Petrapole, Raxaul, Jogbani, Moreh and Attari.
A recent paper titled Linking Land Borders: India’s Integrated Check Posts, by Riya Sinha from the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, analyses the ICPs in terms of their role in facilitation of trade and passenger movement in the region. It also identifies various challenges at the ICPs and suggests policy measures to overcome the same.
Formulated in the early 2000s in the aftermath of the Kargil war (1999) and initiated since 2012, the ICPs have helped streamline cross-border trade and passenger flows through the modernisation of border management infrastructure. To date, India has constructed nine ICPs and is planning to operate an additional 14 by 2025. India has also built two ICPs in Nepal as part of its development cooperation, and one more is under construction. There are several reasons for the increase in momentum towards the building of the ICPs in the last decade. First, the rise in trade between India and its neighbours from 2.7% in 2008 to 3.5% in 2019. India is the market for approximately 70% and 90% of Nepal and Bhutan’s exports. Since the 2000s, India’s trade with Nepal has increased from $ 0.3 million in 2000–2001 to $7.9 billion in 2019–20. Second, this is also driven by China’s growing investments in infrastructure in South Asia. Except for Bhutan and India, all other South Asian countries are signatories to China’s Belt and Road initiative. Finally, improving cross-border trade infrastructure is also driven by India’s international obligations. In April 2016, India ratified the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), in order to simplify and harmonise trading across borders.
While the concept emerged after the Kargil war under security imperative for securing the border, ICPs have evolved to play a much more significant role in regional connectivity. Since its operationalisation, there has been an increase in cargo andpassenger volume at the different ICPs. For instance, India’s exports to Nepal increased by 75% post the initiation of ICP Raxaul in 2016; the share of ICP Attari in India’s total trade with Pakistan increased from 17% in 2011–12 to 33% in 2013–14, signifying re-routing of the trade from the sea; and the passenger movement through ICP Moreh increased by approximately 530% in 2018–19. Other ICPs, however, did not show much improvement due to several reasons. At ICP Petrapole, the trade figures remained approximately the same due to several challenges, including paucity of parking and storage space at the corresponding port in Benapole (Bangladesh), the prevalence of an illegal parking facility at Kalitala, West Bengal and a heavily congested approach road leading to the ICP.
The volume of freight and passenger traffic through the ICPs is likely to increase with various connectivity infrastructure initiatives coming to fruition. Therefore, it is essential that a pre-emptive growth estimation be done for traffic through the ICPs, so that adequate facilities can be provided for different types of cargo while maintaining the export clearance time as 24 hours, based on the Government of India’s National Trade Facilitation Action Plan 2020–23. The ICPs are an essential part of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN-MVA), cross-border railways, and inland waterways transport connectivity plans in the region and play an important role in enabling connectivity of South Asia with Southeast Asia. Therefore, there is a need to address the existing challenges at the ICPs to facilitate cross-border movement.
The paper suggests several recommendations at two levels, inter-governmental and the ground level. There is a need to upgrade the ICPs in coordination with the neighbouring countries and explore the possibility of constructing and managing the ICPs through a Public-Private Partnership model. At the ground level, timely implementation of the Land Port Management System will address several issues, including physical documentation and better management of the ICPs’ capacity.
The ICPs are an ambitious model for improving border management infrastructure. The nine operational ICPs in India and two in Nepal since 2012 show the capacity of the Government of India to deliver on the project and are a testament to the rising demand from India’s smaller neighbours. Therefore, it is important to leverage India’s strength and success story in this area for achieving greater regional integration in South Asia.
(The study has been authored by Riya Sinha)