Nepal is now connected to the Asian Highway, a 32-country road network that aims to expand intra-country trade and connectivity, after India completed the work of widening the West Bengal-Kakadvitta section. This section of the highway will start at Bangkok, Thailand and pass through Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, and reach Karachi, Pakistan from New Delhi, via Nepal’s East-West Highway.
With the expansion of the road network, Nepali rural businesses now hope reach international markets near and far. Tikaraj Dhakal, president of the Jhapa Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an entrepreneur, says, “When the Asian Highway comes into operation, our agricultural produce will easily find international markets.”
A four-lane 'Miteri Bridge' has also been built on the Mechi River at the eastern gate of Nepal with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank’s Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation-Road Network Project. Keshav Kumar Sharma, director general of the Road Department, informs that Nepal is now connected to the 'A Class' Asian Highway. “When the road is wide, the border becomes more economically vibrant,” says Rishi Timsina, president of the Mechi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
India has built a 790-meter-long bridge over the Mechi River on the Nepal-India border, funded with a loan of 1.5 billion Indian rupees. “The dilapidated and narrow Mechi Bridge was inconvenient for transport as it was difficult to move large containers,” says Dhurba Raj Bishwakarma, head of customs at the Mechi Customs Office, Kakadvitta. “Now that the new bridge has been built, transport has greatly eased. Vehicles ranging from bicycles to large container bearing trucks can easily pass without having to stay in a jam for hours on end.” Bishwakarma informs that India has set up a port at Jalpaiguri near Siliguri to facilitate trade with Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
In 2016, there was an agreement between the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to build an expanded bridge over the Mechi River. Construction formally started in February 2017. A four-lane road has now been built up to Kakadvitta Bus Park along with the four-lane bridge on the Mechi River on the Nepal-India border, in what will be an approach road in the Asian Highway system.
India had built the Asian Highway bordering West Bengal only two years ago. After the bridge-building at Kakadvitta, Silguri, which 28 km away, has become more accessible.
“Connecting with the Asian Highway will also help our tourism,” says Netra Karki, a local tourism entrepreneur, noting that the narrow bridges on the Kakadvitta-Panityanki road had made traffic uncomfortable.
Former President of Jhapa Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vijay Dalimiya says the Asian Highway is an opportunity for Nepal to expand and promote trade. “The highway will facilitate trade with India, which in turn will also boost Nepal’s trade with Bangladesh and Bhutan,” says Dalmiya.