N Bengal to be hot spot with Nathu La reopening
Kolkata, Jul 06: The Sino-Indian trade through Nathu-La could help north Bengal towns including Siliguri to turn into a major trading hotspot of the country.
Siliguri town, located at the foot of the Himalayas and well connected by roads and rails, already a major transhipment hub for Northeast and northern Bihar. It can be the transhipment point for all trade through Nathu-La in neighbouring Sikkim.
"Siliguri is going to become more strategically important as the Nathu La pass will be opened and most of the trade between India and China will move via Siliguri," state Urban Development Minister Ashok Bhattacharya said while unveiling some projects in North Bengal.
"Industries are also being set up here because the land is cheaper than that in Kolkata and a large percentage of people there know English," Mr Bhattacharya claimed.
"Siliguri will be the transit point for Tibet trade as it is well linked by rails and roads," felt state's Commerce and Industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen.
The choice of Siliguri and its twin city, Jalpaiguri, as the point for Customs, warehousing and storage, and freight handling infrastructure seems obvious as it is also on the East-West Corridor of the National Highway Development Project, felt experts.
It is ideal for switching cargos to more powerful trucks capable of crossing Nathu-La at 14,500-foot. Moreover, being in the plains, building infrastructure will be less expensive.
The state government had already asked the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) to work out a detailed plan for development of the region, Mr Sen said.
Earlier, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had written to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling proposing a joint action group to monitor the development of the Nathu-La trade route.
Experts also point out that the Kolkata and Haldia docks are the ports closest to China's southern region. At present, the entire area is bottled up and has to do trade via Myanmar ports, 5,000km away.
Kolkata in contrast is 1200km.
So the obvious beneficiaries of the Nathu-La trade are likely be the port at Kolkata and Haldia.
Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) chairman Anup Chanda is upbeat about the possibility. "The new trade route will augur well for us. We are ready to handle any additional cargo that may come from Tibet," Mr Chanda said.
The port trust is repairing infrastructure both at Kolkata and Haldia docks to handle additional cargo.
Moreover, it has embarked upon a project to develop cargo handling in deep draft areas at Saugor Island and Sandheads.
Concor will set up a modern container handling facility within Kolkata Dock System. Moreover, the port has entrusted Eastern Railway to spruce up 78km of rail tracks within the dock area to move other break bulk cargo.
Cargo can now move between Kolkata and Siliguri by rail directly and switch modes between rail and ship.