Sikkim seeks alternative highway to avoid bandhs in Darjeeling hills

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Gangtok, Sep 13 (UNI) In a bid to reduce its dependency on the sole NH 31 A, the Sikkim government is set to formally submit a proposal to the Union Ministry for Roads and Transport for an alternative highway bypassing the trouble spots in neighbouring Darjeeling hills region.

The proposal being explored by Sikkim government seeks to make an alternative highway through Aritar, East Sikkim, near the Indo-Bhutan border and opening up at Chalsa in Dooars, detouring away from the troublesome areas in Darjeeling hills.

The proposal will be submitted by Sikkim Roads and Bridges Secretary G P Sharma to the regional office of the Union Ministry at Guwahati on Monday.

The Sikkim government and the Swastik project of Border Roads Organization (BRO) had jointly drawn up a tentative road map for the proposed alternative highway.

Making a formal presentation before state Chief Secretary N D Chingapa yesterday at Aritar, East Sikkim, both the Road Secretary and Swastik Chief Engineer R K Patyal said the proposed alternative highway was a tentative one and still needed to be explored on a deeper level.

As per the presentation, Aritar is the link area for the proposed alternative highway between Sikkim and West Bengal. The road map seeks to make a detour into the extreme corner of East Sikkim near West Bengal and Bhutan border and then drop into Tante and Jaldhaka and get connected with NH 31 at Chalsa near Sevoke in Siliguri of West Bengal.

This detour increases travel time from Gangtok to Siliguri by at least six hours compared to the usual time required of three and half hours along the present NH 31 A.

''It is better to have a longer detouring road than no road at all,'' Mr Sharma said in his presentation.

The alternative highway has been a long pending demand of Sikkim government as the Himalayan state is connected to the rest of the nation only through NH 31 A with no air or rail link.

Last year's natural calamities along NH 31 A and this year's political disturbances in Darjeeling hills had cut off the state for long periods driving home the message to the Centre for expediting the demand for an alternative highway for Sikkim.

The total distance from Gangtok to Siliguri through the proposed alternative highway is estimated to be more than 250 kms.

People can reach Gangtok from Siliguri via Aritrar in the proposed alternative highway either through Pakyong or Menla.

The Army can use this alternative highway to reach Menla (high altitude border locations) to bypass Gangtok and avoid congestion, the Swastik head said.

The reassurance that the Sikkim government is exploring through this proposal is that most of the areas between Aritar and Jaldakha are sparsely populated for bandhs to be enforced by political parties in Darjeeling hills.


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