GANGTOK, November 3: Sikkim’s road connectivity woes may finally be over.
The need for an alternative to the existing National Highway 31A may soon see the light of the day with the State Government announcing the start of the bidding process to the construction of this crucial road network connecting the State with the rest of the world.
The State Roads and Bridges Department has invited expressions of interest from an empanelled central list of approved consultants of the Ministry of Shipping and the Department of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, to survey, investigate, design and prepare a detailed project report (DPR) for the construction of a double lane alternative highway to the State.
The bid includes construction of tunnels and bridges and interested consultants have been asked to submit their detailed credentials by the first week of December.
The proposal of the Sikkim Government of an alternative route plan for a stretch of the National Highway 31A connecting the State had been a long pending of the State with the Centre.
In the first phase, the double-lane highway will connect Melli in Darjeeling district to the border town of Rangpo along the Sikkim side of the Teesta, a distance of 26 km. The alignment of the single-lane NH31A is along the Bengal side of the river. The Teesta River upto Rangpo and Singtam towns and the Ranikhola River from Singtam to Ranipool in Sikkim connecting up to the State Capital, Gangtok would be the median for the alternative route. The work will be carried out by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in consultation with the State Government.
The principal chief engineer-cum-secretary of the State roads and bridges department, G.P. Sharma, confirmed that the plan has been sanctioned under the Special Area Road Development Programme, a central package to link several State Capitals of the Northeast. All roads to the district headquarters will also be double-laned under this scheme. The second phase plan is likely to be cleared by the Centre by March next year, he added.
Since four-laning of the highway is not possible because of the fragile nature of the soil in the region, the idea is to build a new one and upgrade the existing one. The proposal is to build a double-lane highway on the right bank of the Teesta river while upgrading the existing Highway along the left bank of the River to a double lane. At present, there is only a single lane Highway connecting the State.
The second phase of the project will cover Ranipool to Tashi View Point above Gangtok. Both the phases are likely to be tendered together. While an exact cost has not been calculated and will be finalised only after the DPR is ready, an approximate expense brings it to Rs 5 crore per kilometer.
Landslides and frequent bandhs in neighbouring West Bengal often choke the only lifeline of Sikkim. The State Government has been persistently demanding an alternative highway to tide over these bottlenecks with the Centre for over a decade now.
Earlier, the NHAI had called for tenders for the construction of a four-lane highway on a build-own-operate basis but met with lukewarm response as construction companies were told to recover their investment from toll imposed on the road. The present volume of traffic cannot meet the high cost. In addition, the nature of the soil did not permit a four-lane.