A series of pillars, mostly incomplete, running across the 4.94-km wide Brahmaputra... For long, this was was the picture at Bogibeel, near Dibrugarh in Upper Assam.
But this is now set to change.
The bridge is finally nearing completion and is expected to open rail and road connectivity between Bogibeel on the south bank of the Brahmaputra and Silapathar in Dhemaji district on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, in a year.
And, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will seek re-election in 2019, Bogibeel may serve as a concrete symbol of effort to develop infrastructure in the North-East, and also forbetter defence logistics along the Sino-Indian border.
India has 3,488-km-long land boundary with China. Almost a third of it runs in Arunachal Pradesh. Currently, the rail and road link to Arunachal is maintained by three lower- and mid-Assam bridges — Jogighopa in Bongaigaon district, Saraighat near Guwahati, and Kolia-Bhomora between Sonitpur and Nagaon.
But this means a cargo from Dibrugarh in the north-eastern corner of Assam takes a 600-km detour merely to cross the Brahmaputra.
The only other alternative is crossing by ferry. But that is not suitable for large and heavy cargo.
Moreover, in a region where the monsoon lasts six months (May-October), ferry services often remain disrupted for months.Strategic project
To improve logistics along the Sino-Indian border, India had planned a number of infrastructure projects nearly two decades ago.
This includes the construction of a Trans-Arunachal Highway on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, and new road and rail links over the mighty river and its major tributaries such as the Dibang, the Lohit, the Subansiri and the Kameng.
Bogibeel was a central piece of this plan.
It aimed linking NH-52 at Dhameji with NH-52 B in Dibrugarh; convert the metre-gauge rail links in the north into broad gauge and connect it with existing broad-gauge rail link at Dibrugarh, creating a loop running across Upper and Lower Assam.
Though approved in 1996, construction of the bridge was initiated by the first BJP-led NDA government in 2002.
The Congress-led UPA government, which ruled for a decade since 2004, appreciated the importance of the bridge and declared it as a national project in 2007.
But implementation was slow, despite a Congress government in the State.
In July 2014, when this correspondent visited the project, 15 out of the 42 piers were coming up while work had barely begun on the rest.
The project cost had spiralled to ₹6,000 crore from ₹1,767 crore in 2002.
The scene has now changed dramatically.
The construction of the piers is complete. The superstructure is 70 per cent done, with 29 out of 39 steel spans, each 125-m long and weighing half a coal-laden cargo train, already resting on the piers.
The rest of the spans of the double-decker bridge will be in place by July.
Road building, on the upper deck, is apace at the Silapathar end. Laying of railway tracks will begin soon. Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) is confident of completing the bridge by March 2018.
Bogibeel is the most important, though not the only, proof of infrastructure push in the region.
The 9.15-km Dhola-Sadiya bridge at the confluence of the Lohit and the Brahmaputra further up at Tinsukia in Assam is also nearing completion.
Conceived in 2011, it was scheduled for completion in 2015.
Latest reports suggest the bridge, along with approach roads, will open early next year, offering easy connectivity to western Arunachal.
The Patkai range of hills running through Tinsukia and Dibrugarh are now hideouts of Naga and Assamese militants.
But the bridge, coupled with Stilwell Road that connects Tinsukia to China through Myanmar, will throw open more logistics options for the Army operations.
The Centre recently completed a second bridge at Saraighat and announced plans to build at least two more bridges over the Brahmaputra in Upper Assam between Bogibeel and Kolia-Bhomora.
The government has announced a ₹60,000-crore accelerated road building plan for the North-East, including widening of the national highways.
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