Millennium Post

Connecting with Sikkim

Sikkim will soon have air and railway links with the rest of the country, with flights from the state expected to begin from end of 2014 or 2015.

The state will have its first operational airport at Pakyong, about 30 kms to the south of Gangtok. It is spread over 197 hectares and being built at a cost of Rs 310 crore.  Official sources say that the construction of the airport at an altitude of 4,700 feet posed several challenges, and because building work was possible only around 125 days in the year, it was running behind schedule. With deep valleys on both sides, the runway will be among some of the highest-placed landing strips in the world. In recent years, the Indian government has taken several steps to increase connectivity between the mainland and the northeastern areas bordering the Tibet region. In addition to setting up the air link, road connectivity, too, has not been neglected. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had undertaken the doubling of the Gangtok-Nathu la Road at a cost of Rs 780 crore in recent times. BRO sources said earlier that this had been done keeping in mind similar steps taken by China on its side of the border in the region. The 40-odd km long road had been divided into several phases to aid construction.

In addition, work is underway on the long awaited Sevoke (West Bengal) to Rangpo (Sikkim) broad gauge railway link. Construction costs have been estimated at Rs 1339.48 crore, as over 100 bridges, and, at least 13 tunnels, are planned. The longest tunnel would be running for 1,814 metres. The project has been described as very challenging by the Railway authorities as the work is being carried out in totally hostile and rough kind of terrain and weather conditions.

Spokesmen of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce and other local bodies have also been pressing for extending the broad gauge service from Rangpo near the West Bengal border to Gangtok, a distance of over 40 kms, again citing the impressive Chinese infrastructure in the region. In the hilly terrain, the cost of laying roughly one km of BG tracks was around Rs 25.42 crore.

With the Chinese authorities linking Nathu La with Lhasa, the former Tibetan capital, popular opinion in Sikkim also demands the linking of Gangtok with Yatung on the Tibetan side of the border, if necessary in cooperation with the Chinese. This construction would be mainly underground, with the track running through tunnels, reducing the distance between Gangtok and Yatung to only 20 kms, whereas by road it comes to 56 kms.

Sikkimese trade and business authorities have welcomed the Sevoke-Rangpo linkage, as they see a great future in accessing the great Indian market for their flowers and fruits grown in the region. The considerably quicker movement of goods and people would help the state’s economy as well as increase the revenues earned from tourism. They also press for strengthening facilities at the Nathu la trading post. (IPA)
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