ADB plans to strengthen subregional trade in S Asia

Himalayan News Service

Manila, May 3:

Asian Development Bank (ADB) is planning a project to help strengthen the regional network of roads connecting Bangladesh, Bhutan, People’s Republic of China (PRC), India and Nepal, through a $800,000 technical assistance (TA) grant. The planned project would develop further the West Bengal transport corridor, which runs from Haldia port off the Bay of Bengal to as far as the state of Assam, states a press release issued by the bank today. The corridor is of strategic importance to the economic development of northeast India and the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. It is also the transport backbone of West Bengal, the major trade route for India’s northeastern states and neighboring Bhutan and Nepal, and provides important links with Bangladesh.

ADB approved a $210 million loan in 2001 to upgrade the West Bengal corridor, including about 340-km of national highway north from Barasat, and two state highways providing connections to the Bangladesh border, states the press release. To complete the upgrading of the corridor, a bypass is needed between Barasat and the Belgharia Expressway. Also NH34 should be upgraded between Raiganj and Dalkhola, to complete the link between NH34 and the east-west corridor, while bridges are needed on NH34 at Baharampur and Maldah, to head off congestion.

The planned project, in the pipeline for 2004, will also develop a complementary economic and social infrastructure to support the economic growth that will result from improved transport efficiency, states the release. “The West Bengal corridor needs upgrading to national highway standard if it is to realise its full economic potential,” says Tyrrell Duncan, an ADB senior transport economist. “The improvements will support growth in subregional trade and investment to promote economic growth and poverty reduction,” he adds.

Once completed, it is estimated the West Bengal corridor project could benefit some 19 million people, more than a third of them classed as very poor.

Because of its importance in promoting regional economic cooperation, the transport sector figures prominently in the ADB-backed South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Programme. ADB has provided regional TAs to identify and prioritise subregional cooperation projects and to establish and consolidate the institutional framework for economic cooperation.

The ministry of road transport and highways and the state government of West Bengal will execute the TA, which is due for completion in September 2004. West Bengal will contribute $200,000 toward the TA’s total cost of $1 million.