Dr Mahendra P Lama on Kailash Manasarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim

The decision taken on Thursday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to facilitate the annual Kailash Manasarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim has been lauded by noted academician Dr Mahendra P Lama, who headed the Nathu la Trade Study Group in 2004-2005 that had been initiated by the Sikkim government in the year 2000 in an effort to reopen the historic trade route.

Dr Mahendra P Lama
Dr Mahendra P Lama

The Nathu la trade route has remained closed since 1962 following the India-China war. The formation of the study group stoked a national-level debate on the significance of reopening this trade route. Lama and his group even took the pain of inviting several eminent journalists to Nathu la and convincing them that the reopening of the trade route would bring together two of the world’s oldest civilisations once again.

During former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Sikkim in April 2003, he was fully briefed and convinced about the demand of the people of Sikkim and neighbouring regions on the benefits of reopening the trade route. Eventually, a memorandum of understanding on expanding border trade by reopening the Nathu la trade route was signed between Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart on June 23, 2003 during the former’s visit to Beijing.

The group headed by Lama submitted a comprehensive report in August 2005, and after prolonged negotiations between the Indian and Chinese governments, the route was reopened after 44 years on July 6, 2006. It also made 29 major recommendations that included integration of trade with tourism by 2012 and movement between Indian and Chinese tourists, both on package and individual basis by 2015, along with integration of SAARC tourism by 2018.

The recommendations also focused on making Siliguri an entrepôrt for overland trade between India and China and converting Bagdogra into a full-fledged international airport. Construction of an alternative highway to Nathu la and a museum and opening of another historical trade route through Jelep la Pass in Kalimpong were also suggested by the study group.

Praising the MoU signed on Thursday between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministries, Lama said, “This is a highly welcome decision as it will not only integrate trade with tourism, but also make cultural contacts between India and China very robust and far-reaching. It will also generate huge forward and backward linkages for the eco-tourism industry in this part of the country.”

He further expressed his gratitude to Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma’ Swaraj for bringing forth the issue during the Chinese president’s visit and also thanked Jinpeng for making such a historic decision.

Lama also urged the prime minister to reopen the Jelep la pass trade route to Tibet at the earliest, which, according to him, would significantly bolster the development of the whole of North Bengal, especially Darjeeling district.

Source: EOI

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