Sikkim, the least populous state in India, is strategically one of the most important. Sikkim is tucked away in the high hills of the Himalayas, and is connected to the rest of India through only one major road. Sikkim borders 3 countries, China, Nepal and Bhutan, and parts of it are disputed with China. With Chinese expansion in various border sectors of India, including Doklam plateau, India should need to step up its transportation in the border states.
As Sikkim is located high in the hills, waterways are not an option for transportation in this state. Sikkim has only one road connected to Siliguri town, the NH10, which often gets blocked in the monsoon due to landslides. Thus there is a need to expand railway and air service in Sikkim, apart from improving the road condition of NH10, and exploring other roadways possibilities.
The NH10 is being expanded to 4 lane and landslide-prone. There is another road connecting Darjeeling with Jorethang. A third road is under construction, which will connect Kalimpong town with Oodlabari near Siliguri, and will proceed to Pedong, Zuluk and Nathu La pass, following the old silk route from China.
Sikkim got its first airport when the greenfield Pakyong airport was made operational in 2018. However, the airport lacked basic facilities, like night-landing facilities, less runway length, and hence, it is not possible to make it a commercial success. Its only operating airline, SpiceJet, suspended operations for nearly 2 years due to villager’s agitations and technical challenges in landing in the airport. The good news is that flight operations have resumed, though irregular. Pakyong airport, if maintained well along with reliable flight operations, can be a commercial success, drawing tourists from all over the country to this small, picturesque state.
The most talked about transportation link to Sikkim is the railways. A small station by the name of Sevok, is the nearest railway station in Sikkim, and hence, it was planned to lay a railway line from Sevok to Rangpo in Sikkim. The railway line is currently under construction, with new stations proposed at Rangpo, Melli, Tista Bazaar, and Riang. More than 85% of the line is through tunnels and bridges. After the foundation stone was laid in 2009, it took 10 years for work to start owing to non-availability of forest clearances, wildlife clearances and unrest in Darjeeling. Though the Indian Government is hopeful of completing the project by its deadline in December 2023, it is unlikely to be met.
After proper connectivity, the smallest state of India, in terms of population will become the largest state in terms of tourism and revenue earning per capita. Sikkim is also India’s first state, where farming is 100% organic. Also it is encouraging various ecological and environmental measures to protect the fragile environment it uniquely possess.
Written by – Himadri Paul