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China road plan offers Bengal gain

Vehicles parked along NH10. File picture

Calcutta: The Centre has planned a new highway to connect Sikkim with mainland through Bengal and widen NH10, the sole link between the Himalayan state and rest of India, apparently after tension along the India-China border.

The plan, if executed, will help enhance tourism opportunities in north Bengal whose picturesque remote areas lack connectivity now.

Sources at Nabanna said the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd had proposed to develop a new highway that connects Bagracote in Jalpaiguri and Renoke on the Sikkim side of the border.

From Renoke, one road would lead to Memla near Nathu-la on the China border and another would go to Gangtok.

"The road from Bagracote to Gangtok would be identified as NH717A and the one to Memla from Renoke on the Sikkim border would be called NH717B," said a senior state government officer.

The proposed alignment of the highway in Bengal would be 92.8km and it would pass through Chunavati, Lava, Algara, Pedong and Rishi in Kalimpong district.

As the highway would also help develop an alterative route to Kalimpong from Siliguri, the Bengal government has already given its nod for the project. Land acquisition for the project will start soon, the sources said.

"The Centre wants to improve connectivity with Sikkim keeping the importance of the China border in Nathu-la in mind. The state would help the Centre in all possible ways for the sake of the country's sovereignty. Besides, it would help the state develop connectivity with several remote areas of Kalimpong district," said a senior state official.

Sources explained that the Centre was worried over the sole dependence on NH10 to reach Sikkim.

"As NH10 passes through landslide-prone stretches along the Teesta valley, connectivity to Sikkim often gets affected during the monsoon. As the Centre does not want to keep Sikkim cut off from the mainland anymore, the new road has been planned," said a source.

Besides the new road, the Centre has also urged the Bengal government to widen NH10 to ensure a better connectivity with Sikkim, which Nabanna has accepted without any fuss.

"The Bengal government maintains a 75km stretch of the 174km road. The state will widen it to 7m from the existing 5m or 5.5m. A DPR is being prepared for this purpose," said an official.

According to officials, it would be a tough job to widen the road by cutting rocks of hills. The route has the Teesta river on one side and hills on the other.

The initiative by the Centre would help the state develop tourism in Kalimpong district.

"Areas like Lava, Rishi and Algara, which can challenge several hill destinations, could be promoted. So far, these areas were not so popular because of lack of connectivity. It would boost the economy of the newly created district of Kalimpong," another official said.

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