| The central team in Nathu-la on Wednesday. Picture by Pema Leyda Shangderpa
Nathu-la, May 11: Trade should make it across Nathu-la before the snow seals the ancient Silk Route this winter.
September has been set as the tentative date for the reopening of trade between India and China after almost 43 years along Nathu-la in Sikkim, according to the high-powered inter-ministerial team on a recce of the border outpost.
While a decision on the date awaits finalisation, the team, led by additional secretary of national security council S.D. Pradhan and joint secretary in the Union home ministry H.S. Brahma, today pointed out to the Sikkim government that they were hoping for marginal 'localised' trading activity to begin during the initial phase of the reopening of the trade route.
'Localised' trade means goods can be exchanged only for local consumption within Sikkim and the areas in close proximity to the mart that has been identified for business across the India-China border.
It has been proposed that initial trading be permitted only for residents of Sikkim, a policy likely to be changed later.
At a meeting held with the central team members this evening, officials of the Pawan Chamling government are said to have committed themselves to meeting the September deadline. The state government will also hand over a detailed project report to the Centre by mid-June.
This is the first visit of a high-level team since an agreement on reopening of the famed trade route was reached in 2003 between former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Early this morning, the team flew to Nathu-la in a BSF chopper and identified Sherathang village, some 7 km before Nathu-la in east Sikkim, as the trade hub on this side of the border. Rinchingang, around 8 km from the international border, is the site of the mart on the Chinese side.
This means that initial trading will be carried out within a 15-km stretch between the two countries. The goods trucks will be escorted by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police throughout the 7-km stretch to Sherathang. Trade across the border will, however, have to close before sunset.
The state public works (roads & bridges) department has been identified as the nodal agency for infrastructure development while the state commerce and industries department is the nodal agency for the entire border trade.
The team also inspected sites where necessary infrastructure like customs and immigration offices, money exchanges and transport and communication centres will come up.