Rs. 1,434-crore project aims to set up two Asian highways through north Bengal districts; Centre has given in-principle approval

The West Bengal government has sent a proposal to the Union Cabinet for a major infrastructure project connecting West Bengal with three neighbouring countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.

The project that is part of the South Asia Sub Regional Economic Cooperation Programme of Asian Development Bank (ADB) was discussed at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at Uttarkanya on Monday where she said that the Centre had in principle agreed to give a go-ahead to the project.

“This is a landmark project that will boost the connectivity with the neighbouring countries and friendship among the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. We hope that the Union Cabinet would give its approval soon,” Ms. Banerjee said.

The project aims at setting up two Asian highways connecting the three neighbouring countries through the districts of north Bengal. Asian highway 2: the first highway will connect Panitanki near Siliguri on India-Nepal border with Fulbari in the same district on India- Bangladesh border. Of 33-kilometre highway, 11 km will be four-lane and remaining two-lane. The estimated cost of this highway is about Rs. 602 crore.

The second highway, Asian Highway 48, connects Changrabandha on India- Bangladesh border in the State’s Cooch Behar district with Jaigaon on Jalpaiguri–Bhutan border. Of the 110-km highway, 18 km is under the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and remaining will be developed by the State’s Public Works Department, senior officials of the department said, adding that the estimated cost of this project is Rs. 832 crore.

The estimated cost of the project is Rs. 1,434 crore and the funding is done by the ADB. The West Bengal government will be the implementing authority.

According to experts, once completed, the project will be a major boost to the economic activity in the region as north Bengal has a unique distinction of sharing border with the three neighbouring countries.

Minister for North Bengal Development Guatam Deb welcomed the development and said that customs check posts would be set up at each point where the road ends on the border with neighbouring countries.

Mr. Deb said that the boost in infrastructure would help more students from neighbouring countries come to the State and increase the opportunity of medical tourism in West Bengal.

“The infrastructure project will signal a huge positive build-up for trade in coming decades,” Omprakash Mishra, professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University said, adding that the ‘historical and economic significance of the region needs to be bolstered by adding and refining connectivity with India’s neighbours’.

Connectivity with the neighbouring countries and north east, which is dependent on the ‘chicken’s neck’ region of north Bengal is crucial to India’s Look East Policy, he added.

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