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Nathu-la wider road reply to Beijing

New Delhi, Nov. 20: The Border Roads Organisation today took the responsibility to widen the Gangtok-Nathu-la road and complete it by 2010. The Nathu-la border crossing with China was opened on July 6 this year.

The timing of the decision also coincides with the arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao in New Delhi. But the BRO board meeting was scheduled earlier.

The decision is one among several adopted at the meeting of the BRO — the military outfit tasked with building and maintaining roads along India’s frontiers — chaired by the minister of state for defence, Pallam Raju.

The widening of the Gangtok-Nathu-la road is an engineering challenge. The road rises from a height of about 5,800 feet (Gangtok) to 14,400 feet (Nathu-la) in just 52 km — an average gradient of more than 165 feet per km.

The trade list for exchange through Nathu-la is limited largely for economic reasons but all involved — traders, central and state governments, the BRO and the army — are aware that if the list were expanded, the road currently would not be able to meet the demand.

The widening of the Nathu-la road is one of the responses of the Indian government to the aggressive development of communication networks on the Chinese side where a train can now transport passengers to Lhasa from the plains.

The Nathu-la road is one of two other major roads being developed in the first phase of the Rs 12,000-crore Special Accelerated Road Development Programme (Northeast) — SARDP-NE — that the Centre adopted in June this year.

The programme was adopted alongside a reversal of policy on border roads. Till then, the Indian government was unwilling to develop communication links along the frontage with China because it feared that that would give the Chinese military an advantage in the event of hostilities.

The two other roads to be developed in Phase I are Lumla-Tashigang in Arunachal Pradesh and the Assam portion of National Highway 52. About Rs 43 crore is to be spent on developing NH 52 on the north bank of the Brahmaputra.

In another development, Indian and Chinese border personnel have begun meeting at a fourth point along the Line of Actual Control. Army sources said here that delegations led by Brigadier A.K. Bardalai and Colonel Li Shi Zhong of the PLA’s border defence regiment met at Area Kibithu point in Arunachal’s Anjaw district on November 18.

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