The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre silent on Nathu-la

Gangtok, Sept. 27: Border trade with China through Nathu-la is unlikely to take place this year, though the Sikkim government has not received any official communication to this effect.

With just five days to go for the October 2 deadline set earlier by the Union commerce and industries ministry for the formal reopening, trade through the Silk Route has been postponed to March next year, official sources said.

Though the Sikkim government is ready with the required infrastructure, the delay was expected especially after China communicated verbally that it was not ready for trade this year.

The first indication of the postponement came from Chinese ambassador Sun Yuxi earlier this month, when he said the lack of appropriate infrastructure and non-existence of proper roads on their side of the border might delay the reopening of the Silk Route.

The Chinese have also cited weather conditions as an impediment to border trade after October as the area becomes inaccessible because of the snow.

The ambassador's announcement, however, had failed to dampen the spirit of the state government which has already put in place the entire infrastructure, though temporary, in a record time of two months.

The trade mart at Sherathang, 50 km from here, has been completed and the roads, along with power, water, and warehousing facilities, are ready.

Principal secretary of the state commerce and industries department Karma Gyatso, in a recent meeting with officials of the ministry of external affairs in Delhi, had discussed the licensing mode and travel passes of those using the Nathu-la for trade.

The MEA was to have notified through a government gazette the special powers that will be delegated to the state so that it can issue trade licences and travel passes.

The powers would be delegated to the state home department by the MEA to issue travel passes for entry and exit and trade licences to carry out trading activities. The reopening of the trade route, closed since 1962, was decided upon after an agreement was signed between former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing in 2003.

Trade through Nathu-la was seen as China's formal recognition of Sikkim as an integral part of India.

The Chinese had estimated a trade of at least $ 10 million in the initial phases.

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