New Delhi, Feb 12 (PTI) The first batch of trial cargo vessels was flagged off from Maia Inland Custom Port in West Bengal to Sultanganj Port in Bangladesh on Monday as part of efforts to promote waterways-based transportation between the neighbours, according to an official release.

Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Shantanu Thakur flagged off the first trial cargo vessels.

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The trial shipment of cargo marks a new beginning for improved connectivity and cooperation between India and Bangladesh, the Ports, Shipping and Waterways Ministry said in the release.

Organized by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), the flagging-off event was attended by first secretary, B'desh High Commission in Kolkata, Additional Commissioner Customs, Kolkata, owner-operator of the Maia riverine port along with senior officials of the authority and other dignitaries.

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IWAI Chairman Vijay Kumar noted that the consistent flow of goods from the Maia terminal will invigorate trade not only with India's neighbouring countries but also with the North Eastern States, ushering in new opportunities for economic growth and regional development.

The statement said the operationalisation of Maia Terminal is expected to be a game-changer as it would shift 2.6 million tonnes per annum of Bangladesh-bound export cargo from road to waterways.

The Maia-Aricha route (Protocol Route 5 & 6) will reduce the distance from NW1 to Bangladesh and North Eastern Region by 930 kilometres, it added.

According to the statement, Inland Water Transport (IWT) is a highly cost-effective mode of transportation, particularly for bulk cargo like coal, iron ore, cement, food grains, and fertilizer.

Despite its advantages, its current share in India's modal mix is only 2 per cent.

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