Monday, September 10, 2018

So near yet so far

On a visit to Northeast India during 2014, we had halted in a hotel in Kaziranga Wildlife sanctuary Assam. Our next halt was at Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh. Our hotel in Kaziranga was not at a great distance from Bramhmaputra River, and I had thought that we would be crossing the river by some nearby bridge and would be on our way to Tezpur and beyond. The situation was unfortunately not that simple, as there is no bridge on Brahmaputra, except for the one near Tezpur. We had therefore to travel back towards Guwahati for another 40 Kilometers or so via Nagaon to get on the Kalia-bhomora Bridge to cross the Brahmaputra. I was quite surprised to find that there was no bridge available to cross Brahmaputra anywhere east of Kalia-bhomora Bridge. For the eastern Assam, the situation is quite bad,  because a person in Dibrugarh town, if he needs to cross the Brahmaputra, needs to take a detour of 600 Km to get to the other bank using Kalia-bhomora Bridge.

In 1962, when Chinese had attacked India in Arunachal Pradesh, the situation was far worst. There was only one bridge for crossing Bramhaputra. Indian railways had just constructed first ever bridge over Brahmaputra near Guwahati. This 1.3 km rail-cum-road bridge was the only link between Assam (with  rest of India) and North Eastern states. The situation eased to some extent when 3.015 Km long Kalia Bhomara Bridge was completed in 1987. Naranarayan Setu in western Assam,  is the third bridge to have been constructed over the mighty Brahmaputra . It is a double-deck bridge with a railway track on the lower deck and a road on the upper deck. It has a length of 2.284 kilometres and connects Bongaigaon District on the north with Goalpara District on the south. The bridge was inaugurated on April 15, 1998. However, eastern Assam still remained inaccessible from northeastern states and vice versa.  The situation continues even on this day.

To remedify the situation, Government decided to take up the work on the fourth bridge at Bogibeel , a place located 17 Km downstream from Dibrugarh town. The foundation stone for the Bogibeel Bridge was laid in January 1997 Eventually; work could start only in April 2002, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the construction. The bridge site is located just over 20 km away from the Assam- Arunachal Pradesh border and the bridge is  expected to act as an alternative to the Kalia Bhomora Bridge near Tezpur in providing connectivity to nearly five million people residing in eastern Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Unlike other bridge sites, Bogibeel site proved a tough nut to crack. In the first place, it is located in an area of high rainfall, which results in the construction being slowed down significantly, as it can proceed largely during a period of four dry months between November and March. Compared to other bridges, the river is much wider here with the result that the bridge, when open for traffic would be approximately of 5 Km length. Perhaps the hardest difficulty that faced the constructors was the instability of riverbanks and unpredictable floods of Brahmaputra. To overcome this difficulty a system of guide bunds and dykes was planned to train the river. The river now flows through a narrow diversion channel. To do this  total  4.83 km of guide bunds and  flood dykes have been raised and strengthened 9 km upstream and 7 km downstream on both banks. Only when the engineers were sure that the guide bunds and dykes could withstand the river’s might, actual work on the bridge began in 2011.

Several deadlines have been missed in last sixteen years. However, it is envisaged now that the bridge will be thrown open to traffic by end of this year. The Bogibeel Bridge will usher in a new era of economic development in the region, apart from strengthening national security in the border areas says the chief minister of Assam.  The bridge is a double-deck bridge with two-railway tracks on the lower deck and a 3-lane road on the upper deck. Upon completion, it will be the longest combined rail and Road Bridge in India.

10 September 2018

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