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Pranab blots out Jelep-la from memory

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  • Published 18.05.08

Algarah, May 18: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee’s claim that he was unaware of the demand for the reopening of the Jelep-la trade route has come as a surprise to many, especially since the issue was repeatedly raised before him during his brief visit here today.

The minister was here, 16km from Kalimpong, to inaugurate an open ground reservoir under the Neora Khola Water Supply Scheme.

Mukherjee himself alluded to Jelep-la when he spoke about improving trade links with China with Kalimpong as a business hub. “It will be our endeavour to ensure that a lot of commercial activities are carried out from Kalimpong, which because of its geographical and strategic location will make it possible to expand our trade with China,” he said. The minister’s remark was an obvious reference to the Jelep-la trade route which was used as a pass between India and Tibet before it was closed down during the 1962 Chinese aggression.

However, a little later while interacting briefly with reporters on the sidelines of the programme, the foreign minister pleaded ignorance on the Jelep-la issue. “I absolutely have no knowledge about it,” replied Mukherjee when his reaction on the possibility of reopening the trade route was sought. The “ignorance” becomes even more glaring given that between the function and his media interaction, Mukherjee had met a delegation of the Kalimpong Chamber of Commerce (KCC) which in a memorandum pleaded for an early reopening of the trade route.

The KCC pointed out that the closure of Jelep-la has severely impacted the local economy. Comparing Jelep-la with the Nathu-la in Sikkim, which has seen resumption of India-China border trade, it said: “The Jelep-la is accessible almost throughout the year. So in terms of feasibility we have the upper hand.”

Darjeeling MP Dawa Narbula and Rajya Sabha member Saman Pathak, too, had called for the reopening of the Jelep-la route in their speeches.

The reservoir has been constructed at a cost of Rs 4.63 crore and can store 13.34 million gallons of water.