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North Bengal hopes to be hot spot with Nathu La reopening

Written by: Staff
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Kolkata, July 6 (UNI) 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, is already a major transhipment hub for Northeastern and northern Bihar. It could now become the transhipment point for all trade through Nathu La in neighbouring Sikkim.

''Siliguri is going to become strategically important as the Nathu La pass will be opened and most of the trade between India and China will move via the town,'' 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 Mr Bhattacharya added.

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, experts said.

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, state Commerce and Industry Minister Sabyasachi Sen said.

Earlier, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had written to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling proposing to set up 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, 5,000 km away. Kolkata in contrast is 1200km.

So the obvious beneficiaries of the Nathu La trade would be the ports 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.

Container corporation (Concor) will set up a modern container handling facility within Kolkata Dock System. Moreover, the port has entrusted Eastern Railway to spruce up 78 km 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.

UNI TJP PCCS RAI1157

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