the Bogibeel road and rail bridge project on the Brahmaputra river in eastern Assam has run into inordinate delays. Conceived to connect National Highway (nh) 37 on the south bank and nh 52 on the north of Brahmaputra, the project has an anticipated cost of Rs 1,767 crore. It is expected to benefit the inhabitants of upper Assam and eastern Arunachal Pradesh, but there are concerns about its design and impact.
The project was first mooted in the Assam Accord of 1985. Work commenced on April 21, 2002, in the presence of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then prime minister. On March 17, 2003, then railway minister Nitish Kumar allocated Rs 60 crore for the bridge under the National Rail Vikas Yojana. Now, the railway ministry is set to declare 2008-2009 as the target for completion. People are upset at the delay.
The construction is yet to speed up. One can see no more than few bases for pillars and heaps of sandbags on the riverbank and parts of guide embankments even after four years of the contract period have elapsed. Moreover, annual floods wash away most of the constructed parts in the bank.
The proposed length of the bridge is only 4.3 km, whereas the Brahmaputra maintains its width up to 7 km even in winter. During the monsoons the breadth of Brahmaputra expands to 11 km. As a result the point at which the bridge is going to be built will have to have approach roads. In turn, embankments will have to be built constricting the width of the river at that point.
Experts including senior officials under the state water resource department have raised concerns that this constriction will escalate flooding and erosion along both banks of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
Moreover, there is serious concern about the impact of the bridge on Majuli, the biggest river island in the world, which is about 100 km downstream of the bridge. It is apprehended that the escalation of erosion would only help the disappearance of the island. Majuli had already shrunk to 875 sq km from 1,246 sq km in 1950.
Protestors now demand an environmental impact assessment and people's participation and transparency in the process. More recently, a memorandum has been sent to President A P J Abdul Kalam, seeking his intervention to safeguard the life and livelihoods of 500,000 people in upper Assam.
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