Enhancing connectivity: NH-208 project to benefit Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, and Bangladesh
The project is set to facilitate easier and more efficient movement of goods between India and Bangladesh
The Indian government has greenlighted an ambitious infrastructure project to revamp and expand a critical 135 km road stretch of NH-208 from Khowai to Harina in Tripura.
The project was approved at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday (December 27, 2023).
Envisaging the improvement and widening of a section of National Highway 208, this ambitious project spans from Khowai at kilometre 101.300 to Harina at kilometre 236.213, covering a total distance of 134.913 kilometres.
The project involves an investment of INR 2,486.78 crore, a significant portion of which, amounting to INR 1,511.70 crore (JPY 23,129 million), will be financed through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This funding is part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) scheme, reflecting a robust collaboration between India and Japan in developmental projects.
This initiative is an infrastructural upgrade aligned with the wider strategic endeavour to enhance interstate connectivity, particularly between Tripura and its neighbouring states Assam and Meghalaya. This development is expected to serve as an alternative route to the existing National Highway 8, thereby easing transit and ensuring safer travel.
Moreover, the project's proximity to the Bangladesh border holds potential to bolster connectivity with Bangladesh, particularly through the Kailashahar, Kamalpur, and Khowai Border Check Posts.
With this enhanced connectivity, the project is set to streamline cross-border transportation, facilitating easier and more efficient movement of goods and services. This improved infrastructure is expected to reduce transit times and costs, making trade more viable and attractive for businesses on both sides of the border.
India and Bangladesh share a resilient trading relationship, with bilateral trade valued at approximately USD 10.46 billion in the fiscal year 2020-2021. India's exports to Bangladesh in this period amounted to about USD 9.69 billion, while imports were around USD 0.77 billion.
The CCEA move aims to enhance these figures with the refined connectivity, as it will provide a more direct and accessible route for the transportation of key commodities such as cotton, mineral fuels, and machinery from India, and textiles, agricultural products, and fish from Bangladesh.
Furthermore, the project aligns with the broader goals of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement, which aims to facilitate seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles across borders in the region. By upgrading the infrastructure that supports this initiative, the NH-208 project is expected to contribute significantly to regional economic integration and cooperation.
In addition to managing interstate and international connectivity, the project aims to provide improved access to key areas within Tripura. Tripura, predominantly an agrarian state, relies heavily on agriculture and related activities. Records indicate that Tripura’s agricultural sector contributes approximately 20% to its Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). With the prevalent development, agricultural belts in Tripura will experience enhanced connectivity to major markets.
Analysts have also projected that the annual production of horticultural crops in Tripura, which stands at around 500,000 metric tons, could see a significant increase in market reach, reducing transportation costs by up to 30%. This improved access is forecasted to boost the income of farmers by at least 25%, given the more efficient transport of produce like pineapples, jackfruits, and oranges, which are prominent in the region.
The enhanced NH-208 intends to impact tourist destinations such as the Ujjayanta Palace and Neermahal, where various wildlife sanctuaries are expected to become more accessible, aiming to increase tourist inflow by 15-20%. The objective is to create a revenue spike of approximately ₹100 crores annually, providing a substantial boost to the local economy and creating new employment opportunities.
The two-year construction phase, planned to commence in 2023, is designed to minimize disruption to local communities and existing traffic. Employment opportunities during the construction phase are expected to peak, with the creation of approximately 5,000 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs, ranging from skilled labour to engineering and administrative roles.
Following construction, the project includes a maintenance phase of five years for sections with flexible pavement and ten years for sections with rigid pavement. The comprehensive approach to construction and maintenance is designed to ensure that the NH-208 remains a reliable and safe route for years to come.
This project, upon completion, is expected to enhance the road's load-bearing capacity, thereby accommodating future increases in traffic volumes. The economic benefits of this well-maintained infrastructure are considerable, with reduced vehicle operating costs and travel times, potentially saving the local economy a considerable sum.
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