National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)
A man rides a horse cart along a highway on the outskirts of Srinagar June 20, 2013 [Representational Image]Reuters File

India's Department of Economic Affairs on Sunday approved a highway construction and maintenance project worth $1.04 billion that would connect the country with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The aim of linking the roads is to increase inter-regional trade in South Asia by 60 percent.

The highway project will be funded by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB). According to sources quoted by IANS, the road project would cover Manipur and West Bengal on the Indian side.

"The mandate is for completing the project within the next two years. The primary idea behind the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) road initiative is to improve ground connectivity in the region," Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary at Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, said.

"This includes, two highways are going to come up in Manipur -- 115-km Ukhrul-Tolloi-Tadubi ($230 million) and a 138-km split, four-lane road between the Kohima-Kedima Kring-Imphal section of National Highway-39 ($280 million)," said AD James, Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. These two roads are to be executed by the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corp. They are currently in the DPR (detailed project report) stage, James told IANS.

The project also includes:

  • Upgrading 122-km Siliguri-Mirik-Darjeeling road for $15 million
  • Widening 60-km long national highway on the border with Bengal and Bangladesh
  • Constructing new 123-km road outside Kolkata worth $250 million

What else?

Apart from the $1 billion project, a 600-metre bridge and a 110 km-road in the Imphal-Moreh stretch of Manipur has also been planned under the same initiative, but the clearance from Nepal is awaited.

"This bridge will connect Kakarbhitta in Nepal with Panitanki in West Bengal. Once we receive the necessary approvals, we would like to bid for the projects as early as possible, say by November-end," said Anand Kumar, Managing Director at National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corp.

In June, Road Transport and Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari had signed a landmark motor vehicles deal in Thimpu (Bhutan) last year. The deal included regulating inter-movement of people, passenger and cargo in the South Asian countries.

"This agreement between sub-grouping of four South Asian nations -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal -- will pave the way for seamless movement of people and goods across their borders for the benefit and integration of the region and its economic development," Gadkari had said.