Demand for Jelep-la Darjeeling, Sept. 23: Reports of the Indian government’s willingness to open more trade routes with China have given a fresh momentum to the demand for resuming trade through the Jelep-pass, one of the oldest trade routes that starts from Kalimpong. While addressing troops at a gathering in the army’s Red Horns divisional headquarters at Bumla in Rangiya, Assam, yesterday, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said the improving relation with China may allow the opening of more trade routes between the two countries. Traders had worked out the route through the Jelep-pass way back in 1871. Though trade through the route was suspended in 1962, by then it had turned Kalimpong into an important business hub. If the Jelep-la reopens, it will help traders during winter, as the Nathu-la becomes difficult to negotiate at that time of the year. During winter, the pass in Kalimpong is not usually closed, which will let traders operate through the route. This will definitely help them do their business without disruption. “Trade through the Jelep-la will give a tremendous boost to the economy of the district. I have already raised the issue in Parliament. Now, in the wake of Mukherjee’s statement, I will pursue the matter further with the authorities concerned so that they do not give Jelep-la a miss,” said Dawa Narbula, the Darjeeling MP. Earlier, when the trade route from Kalimpong was open, businessmen in the region used to export and import Tibetan items like, fing (noodles), prayer flags and threma (used in stitching dresses for monks) and incense sticks. At present, around eight warehouses used during the time are still lying unused in Kalimpong. As far as national trade and commerce are concerned, small hill towns are often neglected, but with its trade route and the old infrastructure, Kalimpong can still make its place on the business map, a source said. When talks were on about the reopening of the Nathu-la, most political parties remained silent about the trade route in Kalimpong. But, following the Nathu-la announcement, the parties soon raised the demand about the Jelep-la. Kalimpong Chamber of Commerce had also submitted a memorandum to then Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee during his visit to Gangtok. “This will be a golden opportunity for the improvement of the local economy if political parties see to it that trade resumes through the Jelep-la,” said Rajesh Chhetri, a resident of the area.

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