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19 Jul 2018

Cry for Panitanki infrastructure

The Mechi bridge on the India-Nepal border. File picture
TT, Siliguri: Ordinary people, traders and tourism stakeholders have demanded improvement in infrastructure at Panitanki, the principal transit point to Nepal from north Bengal and the Northeast.
The demand comes after the recent visit of chief minister Mamata Banerjee to Changrabandha, a land port located on the India-Bangladesh border in Cooch Behar district and around 75km from here. During her visit, Mamata had said the state and the Centre should work together for the development of infrastructure on the site, through which several people cross the international border.
"Panitanki is the main transit point for residents of Nepal and those in north Bengal and the Northeast. Thousands of people from both the countries move across the border every day along the Mechi river bridge. Also, many foreign tourists take the route to enter India from Nepal and vice-versa. That is why it is important to have proper infrastructure in place on the border, with basic amenities for travellers," said Raj Basu, a veteran in travel trade in the region.
Basu, who had been striving to integrate tourist destinations of eastern Nepal, north Bengal and Sikkim and promote a bigger tourism circuit, said the number of visitors moving through Panitanki was on the rise.
At Panitanki, there is no proper place for travellers to sit or refresh themselves. The road leading to Mechi bridge is in bad shape and is congested with traffic most of the times. Also, no space is available to park a vehicle.
Every day, hundreds of trucks from India and Bangladesh enter Nepal through the route, which leaves the road further congested.
Sunil Das, a trader based in Panitanki, around 40km from Siliguri, pointed out that an integrated immigration building (like the one in Fulbari, on the India-Bangladesh border, located around 5km from Siliguri) and a separate pathway along the bridge are immediately required.
This is because, he said, the BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal) agreement on movement of vehicles is in place now and traffic will increase along the border.
"Bangladesh has already made trial runs of buses between Dhaka and Kathmandu and regular service would be introduced soon. Also, the Asian Highway 2 is entering India from Nepal through Panitanki and a new bridge would be constructed over the Mechi river. If the road connectivity improves, there should be adequate infrastructure on the frontier to meet travellers' needs," said Das.
Some local people also said it looked odd to have inadequate infrastructure at Panitanki, where central government departments like Customs and immigration operate from a small building.
"There is a sharp contrast as the infrastructure is excellent at Kakarvitta (on the other side the border). It looks a bit awkward as people step into our side, particularly tourists from abroad who move through the route. We feel there should be similar infrastructure, like huge offices, gardens, parking spaces and places for people to sit and relax," said Dipen Lama, a Panitanki resident who frequents Nepal for business purposes.
Kakarvitta is under Mechinagar municipality of Jhapa district in Nepal.
"Panitanki still carries the village tag, which is why civic amenities are unavailable," said a resident.
Asked about the matter, officials of the Darjeeling district administration said both the state and the Centre need to come together on the issue.
"The infrastructure could be set up in Fulbari as the state and the Centre worked together. Land was provided to the Centre that allotted funds to set up the integrated building to accommodate necessary offices. A similar plan needs to be taken up for Panitanki," said an official.
The official has, however, said once the construction of the Asian Highway 2 ends, there is a chance that work on the improvement of infrastructure on the border might be taken up.
"After the BBIN agreement, the Centre is aware that areas like Panitanki and Changrabandha need development. The state also wants it, as was indicated by the chief minister. Altogether, we hope the ball would eventually start rolling," he added.

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