How Transportation through Bangladesh may bring North-East India Closer

North-East India, despite being a part of mainland India, is far remote and far more inaccessible than we think. Among the north-eastern states, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur and south Assam lie almost entirely on the other side of Bangladesh. The partition of India along religious lines did not favour India her connection with her own north-eastern states.

The narrow chicken’s neck at Siliguri is the only connection between the rest of India and the north-eastern states and parts of north West Bengal. If the Siliguri corridor is blocked for some reason, the entire north-east India gets cut off from the rest of the country. This happens when there is an accident or protests, or terrorists operating in the region, or due to natural calamities. Sikkim is connected to the rest of the country using only one major national highway, which is often blocked during the monsoon due to landslides.

Sikkim Highway to be Widened

Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and south Assam are further disconnected from the rest of the north-east by the Borail range, with only one road and one single rail connection. The Borail range is highly susceptible to landslides and floods, leading to frequent blockades. The same region is much better accessible from Bangladesh, as the border lies entirely in the plains. With both new and old road and rail connections being set up, and even waterways being revived, this region has better connectivity with Bangladesh than the rest of India.

The Agartala-Akhaura rail line, connecting Agartala, the capital of Tripura, with the Comilla region of Bangladesh, is expected to be commissioned soon. Another historic rail line exists between Sylhet and Karimganj, which was responsible for connecting the whole region with Lumding junction, and subsequently to the rest of the Indian Railway network. The single-line passes through the major flood and landslide prone Borail hills, which is as of now closed due to a series of massive flash floods in the state since May 14, 2022. The flood washed away the whole Haflong station, including trains standing in it, and also killed 36 people as of 30th May, 2022.

Haflong Station During Floods in March, 2022

Bangladesh also connects the north-east to the historic port city of Chittagong, offering cheaper trade between north-east India and the rest of the world. Southern Meghalaya region like the Dawki and Cherrapunji are easier accessible from the Bangladeshi side of Mymensingh. The chicken’s neck can be widened if the adjoining Rangpur division of Bangladesh is incorporated into it. The historic Darjeeling Mail, before partition, used to pass majorly through Bangladesh, which even today is the shortest route.

A bus route has been inaugurated to connect Kolkata in West Bengal to Agartala in Tripura through Bangladesh, which takes one-third the original time. Bandhan Express, connecting Kolkata to Khulna and Maitree Express are relaunched after Covid-19. Mitali Express connecting Siliguri with Dhaka is to be launched on 1st June, 2022. Two more routes in Malda and Uttar Dinajpur districts of India are open for freight operations. However, most important road and rail connections between Assam and West Bengal through Bangladesh are still defunct, including the Geetaldaha-Bamanhat-Golakganj section and the Karimganj-Sylhet section.

Mitali Express to be Launched between Siliguri and Dhaka

It is not possible in the short term to make the India-Bangladesh border an open border, or a nearly open border as with Bhutan, or a semi-open border as with Nepal. However, looking in the long term, both Indian and Bangladeshi Governments are thinking of some sort of open borders, or land ports to facilitate easier movement of goods and people from one country to another. The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal motor vehicle agreement may just be the policy required for easier movement of goods. However, for easier movement of people, we need to wait for some more time, as many north-east Indian states are already protesting the massive influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in the recent years.

Written by – Himadri Paul

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

Air India Comes Back to Tata

Air India makes a comeback to its founders after 68 years. In 1932, J. R. D. Tata founded Tata Air Services, later renamed Tata Airlines, which is the precursor of Air India. Back then, J.R.D Tata, an Indian aviator as well as a business aspirant, started flying between Madras and Karachi via Bombay and Ahmedabad. More destinations, such as Colombo and Delhi have been added soon after, and Tata Airlines soon became a popular choice of airways.

Tata Airlines expanded beyond the borders of India to foreign countries, and it did well to connect every nook and corner of the country back in the pre-independence era. It also contributed to World War 2, giving aeroplanes for military evacuation services to the Royal Air Force. After Independence, the Government of India took a 49% stake in Tata Airlines, which now came to be known as Air India, and in 1953, PM Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Tata Airlines by passing the Air Corporations Act.

In a way, after 68 long years after 1953, Tata is all set to acquire the renowned air carrier. Initial attempts to make Air India private started way back in 2001. However, it got delayed, and Air India started to operate on losses which became a huge burden to the Government of India. Finally, 100% privatisation of Air India was looked upon as the best solution for Air India. The complete privatisation process is expected to take place by December 2021. Tata will be the sole owner of Air India as of now.

Privatisation has been a theatre of debate in the recent past when India is moving towards capitalism and looking to privatise its stakes in Government sectors. While private sectors will call for better facilities, greater passenger amenities, and user friendly, it has also irked some employees who feel their jobs are not secure anymore. Privatisation may also weaken a transportation company like Air India, which may opt for cancellation of loss-making routes, or shut down services. The main question is whether Air India after privatisation can operate from the most remote parts of the country, and win confidence among the employees. Let us know your opinion in the comment section below.

Study from Home vs Work from Home

Study from home and work from home have become a new normal in Covid-19 pandemic. There are mixed reviews on both of them, with some pressing on the opening of educational institutions and offices, while others prefer the continuation of the new normal even after the pandemic. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of these two new normal lives.

Study from home is an unavoidable situation in Covid-19 times when all the educational institutions are closed following Government rules. Most students fail to follow up on what is taught in schools. They have to rely on private tuitions and Google or Youtube to learn the concepts well. Assignments and homework have increased drastically which have started interfering with the time a student used previously for revision or making notes. Many students have also become slow at writing, which will greatly impact their performance in exams in offline mode. Online exams are not the best way to test a student’s knowledge or development unless it is a competitive exam.

One major advantage of studying from home is that the journey time to school or college is now saved. Also, studying for competitive exams is best done from home so that we can focus more on academics or work. There is a third advantage for the teachers that now there is less interference by talkative students.

Work from home is an optional situation that is given to most employees who work on computers in digital platforms. The hospital sector is the most required sector at this time, hence it is operated fully as work from the office. Other offline service sectors like hotels, retail, transportation also have no choice but work from the office or centre. However, employees have been allowed far greater flexibility in schedule due to lack of transportation, leading to employee satisfaction.

India’s largest industry, the IT industry, operates almost entirely in online platforms and requires little presence in offline mode. Hence, almost all IT employees worked from home in the pandemic situation. IT requires skill development with growing skills in the Indian digital market. Hence, the time of journey to the office can be utilized better by working from home. The business team, sponsor or sales team, and management team can also operate from home in most sectors. Audit works, on-site monitoring works, and also works involving a lot of printing, photocopy, or scan have employees following a mixed or hybrid pattern of work.

The current scenario is fruitful for most businesses and many companies are looking forward to applying such a pattern even after the pandemic. Save on electricity bills, resources, journey hours, accommodation costs, and also involving more employees at work are the most common pros for work from home. Lack of interaction between team members and leads, lack of gossip after work, and lack of participation in activities outside of the offices are some cons of working from home. A hybrid model can do away with the cons, and include most of the pros except accommodation costs for people living far away from offices.

Written by – Sushmitra Dahal

Tourism Sector on Decline after Strict Rules

The tourism sector in India has declined by more than 50% in the last 2 weeks following strict Covid-19 curbs and restrictions all across the country. Tourist hotspots in the hills and the beaches have been flocked by tourists as soon as the curbs were eased after the second wave in the country. However, in view of an inevitable third wave, restrictions have been again put into place. Expensive Covid-19 tests and unavailability of transportation lead to a fall in tourism, leaving the hoteliers staring at a loss.

Tourist hotspots like Manali, Shimla, Nainital, Gangtok, Goa, Kerala, Digha, and Darjeeling witnessed a sudden rush of tourists as lockdown eased. People with one or no doses of vaccines ventured out in view that as long as 1st dose vaccination certificate and Covid-19 reports are present, no one will get Covid-19. However, it is not the first time the tourists have spread the virus to the locals despite taking all precautions. Excessive tourism was one of the main reasons for the spreading of the delta variant of Covid-19 in India. Also, after the second wave, sporadic outbreaks are seen in some tourist hotspots in the country, spreading quickly among the locals.

The tourism sector has been hit hard by the pandemic throughout the first and second waves. Now, a third wave may sweep through the country if measures are not taken. Scientists have urged people not to venture out unless it is absolutely necessary. The Government is also taking the same path, allowing little transportation, banning large gatherings, and restrictions on hoteliers. Parks have been restricted to only those who are fully vaccinated, and hotels can allow only those guests who carry an RT-PCR Covid-19 negative test report. However, some restricted places like Lakshadweep have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases as the Government did away with mandatory 14-day quarantine. The rising number of Covid-19 cases in Kerala can be attributed to the tourism sector as well.

Trains are running throughout the country, though the local trains have been put off the track. Heritage trains have been non-operational since the first wave. However, numerous tourist facilities like boating, cruise, ropeway, and opening of shrines and religious places have opened, prompting tourists to rush in. Opening the tourism sector is also important as it will generate a huge chunk of the population that depends entirely on it. With the third wave knocking on the door, the Governments must unite and try to minimize its effect as much as possible. Most importantly, the tourists must take precautions as much as possible and must be fined in case of any violation. Also, it is urged to everyone to follow Government advice and Covid-19 protocols as much as possible to avoid any further outbreak of pandemic in the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul