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Biratnagar celebrates centenary as birthplace of Nepal’s industry

- MADHAV GHIMIRE, Binod Bhandari
Biratnagar celebrates centenary as birthplace of Nepal’s industry

Apr 11, 2014-

Biratnagar on Wednesday celebrated the centenary of its establishment. As the birthplace of Nepal’s industrial history, congratulations are in order on the occasion of the city’s 100th anniversary for its transformation from a sleepy farming town into a manufacturing powerhouse. 

The establishment of Biratnagar Jute Mill was a major milestone that led to the opening of many other industries in the city and surrounding areas. The expansion of industries resulted in the formation of the Sunsari-Morang Industrial Corridor, the country’s first industrial hub.

The 28-km corridor houses more than 500 small and large industries, providing employment to around 100,000 individuals. Avinash Bohara, president of Morang Merchant Association, says Biratnagar is the most suitable place/city when it comes to access to the international market. “Biratnagar’s close proximity to India’s Kolkata port gives the city an advantage for trade with countries other than India,” he said.

The industrial corridor accounts for one-thirds of the country’s total production and business transaction. Industrial activities are projected to grow further after the completion of the under-construction Bathnaha-Katari broad-gauge railway, special economic zone and integrated custom check post. 

In the fiscal year 2012-13, Sunsari-Morang Industrial corridor imported raw materials worth Rs 8.14 billion, and exported finished goods worth Rs 18.65 billion, according to Biratnagar Customs. Economist Bhesh Prasad Dhamala says Biratnagar has the potential to be developed as a trade and transit hub.

In recent years, education and health institutions have been thriving in the city. Billions of rupees worth of investment has been made in health and education sector. Rapid expansion of physical infrastructure and quality teaching has made Biratnagar an “education hub” of the east. 

The private sector has injected a huge amount of money in the medical field. There are more than two dozen hospitals and nursing homes in Biratnagar.

Biratnagar has, to some extent, curbed migration of students to India. “Now, the city has been established as an education hub of the eastern region,” said Dinesh Subedi, a professor. “The education sector will be more competitive if it is well managed.”

Once the centre of economic activities, Biratnagar is now struggling to keep its glorious past alive. Despite having some of the largest industries in the country, the city is lagging behind in terms of attracting investors and investment.

Entrepreneurs, however, say all is not lost. “The city can rebound if we can manage basic infrastructure,” said Bohara, stressing on the need for right policies and plan by the government. The eastern region has a huge potential in livestock and dairy business, so the government needs to launch targeted programmes to encourage farmers, he said.

As Biratnagar can be transformed into a potential trade and transit hub, traders have underscored the need for reducing transit costs. Establishment of the Nijgadh-Kathmandu corridor can play an important role in reducing the transport distance for goods imported from India and third countries via Biratnagar.

Goods imported from countries other than India are first shipped to Kolkata port, and then transported to Birgunj through road (950km), while the travel distance from Biratnagar and Kolkata is 624km. “The transport distance will be shortened significantly if goods are first ferried to Biratnagar and then transported via Nijgadh-Kathmandu corridor to the Capital,” said Bohara.

In terms of cost, rail freight is relatively cheaper. For instance, transportation charge from Jogbani-Kolkata link is Rs 1,760 per tonne, while that via railway is Rs 920 per tonnes. “As freight cost can be reduced by 52 percent, linking Biratnagar to Broad-gauge railway in Jogbani will automatically reduce the prices commodities,” entrepreneurs  said.

The government will also have to seek India’s support to link Biratnagar with Rohanpur, bordering Bangladeshi town, via Jogbani with railway. The rail distance between Jogbani and Rohanpur is just 230km. If established the link to Rohanpur, which is 606 km away from Mangala Port of Bangladesh, will make transportation of goods to the port a lot easier.

If India allows Nepal to use its railway network to Rohanpur, it will make it easier for Nepal to import jute, medicine, garment, powdered milk, iron, chemical fertilisers, industrial raw materials and Chinese ceramics. Nepal will also be able to export meat, lentils, foodstuff, seeds, wheat, dairy products and stones to Bangladesh.

It can also be developed as a transit point for cross-country trading by constructing Biratnagar-Kimathanka road, said Kishor Pradhan, president of Eastern Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Published: 11-04-2014 09:03

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