Gangtok, Oct. 31: An alternative route plan for a stretch of the National Highway 31A connecting Sikkim is ready to be concretised. The proposal had been pending for more than a decade.
In the first phase, the double-lane highway will connect Melli in Darjeeling district to the border town of Rangpo along the Sikkim side of the Teesta, a distance of 26km. The alignment of the single-lane NH31A is along the Bengal side of the river. .
Since in Sikkim, four-laning of the highway is not possible because of the fragile nature of the soil, the idea is to build a new one and upgrade the existing one.
The Sikkim roads and bridges department has invited expressions of interest from an empanelled central list of approved consultants to survey, investigate, design and prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for the proposal. The bid includes construction of tunnels and bridges and interested consultants have been asked to submit their detailed credentials by the first week of December.
The work will be carried out by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in consultation with the state government. The rivers Teesta (upto Rangpo-Singtam) and Ranikhola (Singtam-Ranipul) will be the median for the highway.
The second phase of the project will cover Ranipul to Tashi View Point above Gangtok Both the phases are likely to be tendered together. While an exact cost has not been calculated and will be finalised only after the DPR is ready, an approximate expense brings it to Rs 5 crore per kilometre.
At present, there is only the single lane NH31A, which connects the state with the rest of the country. With the new plan now likely to see the light of day, NHAI aims to do away with connectivity woes. Landslides and frequent bandhs in neighbouring Bengal — there was one there yesterday and another one today— often chokes the only lifeline of Sikkim. The Pawan Chamling government had proposed the alternative route way back in 1996.
The principal chief engineer-cum-secretary of the state roads and bridges department, G.P. Sharma, confirmed that the plan has been sanctioned under the Special Area Road Development Programme, a central package to link several state capitals of the Northeast. All roads to the district headquarters will also be double-laned under this scheme. The second phase plan is likely to be cleared by the Centre by March next year, Sharma added.
Earlier, the NHAI had called for tenders for the construction of a four-lane highway on a build-own-operate basis but met with lukewarm response as construction companies were told to recover their investment from toll imposed on the road. The present volume of traffic cannot meet the high cost. In addition, the nature of the soil did not permit a four-lane.