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Four neighbours, one road

New Delhi, Dec. 25: The Centre has given in-principle approval to two international highways connecting Bhutan and Nepal with Bangladesh, both passing through north Bengal.

The four-lane highways are planned as part of a wider road network aimed at increasing connectivity and trade in South Asia.

But while the UPA government is firming up the proposals for the big-ticket plans, the projects will have to wait for the new government before they can take off.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is likely to provide loans for the plans, which have won in-principle clearances from the department of economic affairs under the finance ministry.

The road transport ministry is finalising the alignments and once it is over, the blueprints will be sent to the ADB for approval. “We hope to finalise loan negotiations by this financial year,” said a senior road ministry official.

The 72km Nepal-Bangladesh highway will start from Mechinagar and enter Bengal at Panitanki, near Siliguri’s Bagdogra. It will then lead to Fulbari near the Bangla border and end at Banglabandha in the neighbouring country. In the initial stretch, an existing two-lane bridge on the Mechi near the Nepal border will be widened to four lanes.

The Bhutan highway will begin at Phuentsholing near the border, enter Jaigaon in Jalpaiguri district and pass through Hashimara, Dhupguri, Moinaguri and Changrabandha in Bengal before ending at Burimari in Bangladesh. It will cover nearly 130km.

The Centre has not yet decided on a timeline. “Even if the ADB agrees, we will need a cabinet nod,” said an official.

Motorists from Bhutan and Nepal headed to Bangladesh now have to take highways in Bengal, where several road repair and widening projects are stuck because of the state government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition.

But once the international highways are finalised, the links will be declared a national highway and their maintenance will be the Centre’s responsibility.