Sikkim Transport Connectivity

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

Cycling Makes Comeback in India

Cycling was the most common method of personal vehicle transportation throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, most developed countries in the world are promoting cycle transport to stem the pollution from motor vehicles. Bicycles have the least carbon footprint among all means of transportation as they operate using the energy of the rider. However, they are classified as slow-moving vehicles and are banned from entering congested streets in many cities across India. This limited the growth of this eco-friendly mode of transportation in the early 21st century.

In 2020, world transportation was shattered by Covid-19. Short journeys, for which people used to take auto or bus rides, are replaced by cycles. The unavailability of private cars, buses, and autos means the roads are nearly empty most of the time. So cycling on empty roads did not pose any hindrance to the traffic. In such a scenario, the Government allowed several otherwise-congested roads for cycling purposes. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, all have seen a spurt in the number of cycles and sales of cycles. A cycle is not only very cheap, but an effective mode of transportation for short distance journeys, and can be parked almost anywhere.

However, various independent surveys show that cycling is more a fitness sport than a transport. In lockdown situations, when fitness lovers are unable to move out to gyms or yoga, cycling comes to their rescue. Cycling not only keeps our body fit but also makes us go out in the sun. Various studies show that Vitamin D is linked with our immunity against Covid-19 and the major source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Thus there is a sudden growth in the number of cycle riders in the afternoon.

Seeing a positive response from the public, the Government is now thinking of making the congested cities suitable for large-scale cycle transportation. Cycle helps in reducing pollution, and also saves a lot of fuel. The commuters have also seen the benefits of cycling, both in terms of health and in terms of money-saving. There has been a 300-600 per cent increase in cycle sales across megacities of India. The best-sellers are expensive bicycles, specially meant for racing purposes. The rich section of the society, which previously did not feel the need to cycle, is now considering cycling as a means of staying fit. The Government now requires cycling as a safe form of transport. The Government should promote the development of bicycle tracks across cities so that riders can move from one part of the city to another without disturbing the traffic. The question is, after the pandemic, will the riders feel safe to ride across congested roads. The Government should create an atmosphere of prioritising cycling as a safe and effective transportation option, which not only the poor but also the rich can utilize.

Written by – Himadri Paul