Gangtok, Nov 11 (UNI) Absence of a streamlined connectivity policy for this strategic Himalayan state of Sikkim, which shares international borders with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, Nepal and Bhutan, is generating frustrations both in the state government and the Army.
All the three vital connectivity entities - road, air and rail - have been bogged down in the Ministerial quagmire, thereby delaying the infrastructural growth and other developmental programmes of Sikkim and at the same time, putting the 22nd state of India in a lopsided position against its imposing Tibetan neighbours.
Firstly, National Highway 31A, the lifeline of Sikkim, has not recovered yet from this year's monsoon onslaught that made the state a virtual island. The 7,092 sq kms state had been cut off for different periods during the monsoon triggering crises of essential fuels.
The much-hyped double laning project of the 92 kms NH 31A from Sevoke in Siliguri to Gangtok, estimated to be around Rs 1,100 crore, is yet to take off despite claims by the National Highways Authority of India to complete the project by 2011.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is undertaking the double laning project from Gangtok to Nathu La (64 kms). The estimated costs for the Gangtok-Nathu La component is Rs 780 crore and is scheduled to be completed by March, 2009, as claimed by the BRO. Presently, the BRO's works have been stalled and still awaiting forest clearance from the Regional Centre based in Shillong.
The completion date of the Sevoke-Nathula double laning is significant as the present Nathu La border trade is expected to be declared as open trade in 2011. Since its resumption in July, 2006, trading along the Silk Route is restricted to Sikkim in the Indian side and the TAR in the Chinese side for a period of five years upto 2011. Once trade becomes full-fledged, the volume of business and traffic movement along the mountainous corridor and Siliguri is expected to rise considerably.
A glimmer of hope could be the Centre's seeking bid for construction of a double lane alternative highway from Melli to the border town of Rangpo along the Sikkim side of river Teesta, a distance of some 26 kms.
However, Army sources said compared to the sorry condition of the roads in India, the TAR boasts of a number of road networks, oil pipelines, rail heads, airports and communication network, the available capacity of which is 12 times more than what the 27 lakh population living in the region (7.5 lakh urban and 20.2 lakh rural population) actually needs.
Sikkim has a population of only 5.4 lakh (2001 census).
There are as many as four highway networks in the TAR, including the four lane central highway which connects Lhasa with other areas.
Many of these road heads are close to the line of actual control, including Shigatse, Gyantse, Yatung and Chumbi valley across Sikkim very soon, stated a recent Army presentation to the media.
The roads are in such an excellent condition that Shigatse to Yatung, a distance of 280 kilometres, at an elevation of upto 13,000 feet, can be covered in only three hours. The road right upto the border outpost at Nathula is also expected to be blacktopped by next year.