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Break from past & protocol

Nathu-la, June 20: Weather played god as the first Indian delegation crossed Nathu-la after 44 years today.

It was a day of 'firsts' 'the sun, too, made a rare appearance at 14,400 ft ' and broken protocol.

For the first time, motor vehicles were used till the army outposts on both sides.

Another first: customs and immigration started operation by stamping the passports of the team. From July 6, when Nathu-la will be formally reopened, trade passes will be used instead of passports.

Before 1962, when trade through the Silk Route was carried out on mules and Sikkim was a kingdom under the Chogyals, travel passes were the only documents needed.

As for protocol, the vice-chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region Hao Peng broke it today when he escorted the Indians and saw them off at Nathu-la.

'It is a small beginning for trade but a great opportunity for economic development and people-to-people contact between the two great countries,' Christy Fernandez, the additional secretary of the commerce ministry, said on his arrival at Nathu-la.

Fernandez, who led the first inter-ministerial six-member team to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to assess the Chinese preparedness for resumption of trade, came back to Sikkim this afternoon.

Chief secretary N.D. Chingapa and army personnel were there at the checkpost at Nathu-la, 50 km from Gangtok, to welcome them.

The two sides, according to Fernandez, have arrived at several agreements (see chart) on the trade to be conducted through the pass.

About the preparedness on the other side, Fernandez said: 'The people and authorities of TAR appeared to be pro-active, enthusiastic and supportive.'

Bengal seeks role

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today sought a role for the Bengal government in the reopening of Nathu-la, adds our Calcutta bureau.

'The chief minister wanted Bengal to be included in our negotiations with the Chinese government. I have promised him that Bengal will have a role in the negotiations,' Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh said in Calcutta. Sources said the state government has told the Centre that once the Silk Route is opened, Bengal, and not Sikkim, would be the major trading partner of China. 'He (Bhattacharjee) said a majority of the exports to China would go from Bengal, and Siliguri would be the trade hub in North Bengal,' Ramesh said.

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