The Indian government has started work on a 300-kilometre-long inland waterway that will provide direct sea access to landlocked Nepal.
Nepal has been seeking sea access from India as well as China to boost its international trade.
98 per cent of Nepal's transit trade primarily goes through the ports of Kolkata and Visakhapatnam in India, but the current arrangement results in delays and bottlenecks.
However, work on the Gandak River connecting Ganga with Triveni Ghat in Nepal is likely to be completed by 2023, giving Nepal much-needed direct access to the sea. The Indian government will also build a shipping terminal on Triveni through which Nepal can trade via the Bay of Bengal.
Last week, during a bilateral trade treaty review meeting, which concluded in Pokhara on Friday, Nepal requested New Delhi access to two other seaports — the Mundra Port on the western coast and the Dhamra Port on the eastern coast. Nepal has been aiming to use these ports as alternatives to Kolkata and Vishakhapatnam.
Sources told Sputnik that India responded positively to these requests.
However, since 2015, after India allegedly blocked the supply of essential items, such as petrol, diesel and food grain to the Himalayan nation amid a political standoff, the latter veered closer to China.
Beijing has opened several trade passages for Nepal, triggering anxiety in New Delhi. Last year, China granted Nepal access to its ports of Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang, opening alternate maritime routes for the landlocked nation. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to soon visit Nepal to sign an agreement that will allow the country to conduct trade through Chinese ports.
Last June, during Nepal's Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli's Beijing visit, the two sides signed eight deals worth $2.4 billion under the Belt and Road Initiative, dominated by connectivity, infrastructure and energy projects, including a 628km cross-Himalayan railway linking China to Kathmandu.
"Even though there are some rumours, let us be clear that we are not going to fall into debt trap. Instead, the BRI is going to be beneficial for us. We are aware of our national priorities and interests. Nobody should be worried about it at all," Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli said in Kathmandu, as cited by Nepalese media.
Last month Nepal's PM vowed to go ahead with the Belt and Road Initiative projects despite the bad press the government received for allegedly falling into a "debt trap."