Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Opinion | A bridge over the river Brahmaputra

While such projects could jump-start economic activity, the enhanced connectivity provides strategic succour to India as the region had become a prisoner to Chinese whims

It has taken 21 years for the Bogibeel bridge, sanctioned by the then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, in Assam to become operational. The 4.9km long rail-road bridge, facilitating connectivity between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and costing 5,900 crore to build, is more than just an engineering marvel—it entails a double-line railway track on the lower deck and a three-lane road on the upper deck.

For one, the Bogibeel bridge, only the third rail-road bridge across the river Brahmaputra, provides the much needed connectivity both within Assam and also to neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, India’s strategically frontier state flanking China. It is estimated to shave off nearly 700km of commute for people moving between Dibrugarh and Dhemaji districts of Assam or beyond to Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, it showcases a template for similar big-ticket projects that India so desperately needs to bridge its glaring infrastructure deficit. Second, it walks the talk on the policy of “Look East" first coined by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991. Projects of this nature could jump-start economic activity in the region and end its isolation. For long, the North-East of India, which is landlocked, has been neglected; recent migration trends have, however, begun to ensure greater integration. This neglect had understandably triggered a sense of alienation from rest of India—a key reason stoking extremist movements in the region. The ecosystem in the region’s neighbourhood, too, has undergone radical change in recent years. Particularly significant has been the end of the military regime in Myanmar. In a democratic framework, the prospects for actually delivering on the trilateral highway connecting Manipur to Thailand through India’s eastern neighbour is bright. Similarly, India has worked its diplomatic connections with Dhaka to get its nod to facilitate rail connectivity through Bangladesh between mainland India and Tripura. With increased intra-North-East connectivity, transnational linkages of this kind with the associated potential of trade open up unprecedented economic opportunity in the region. All the more because the centre of the world, following the dramatic rise of China, has shifted to the East. Third, the enhanced connectivity provides strategic succour to India. For long the region, due to neglect, has become a prisoner to Chinese whims. The recent showdown in Doklam shows that Chinese continue to be belligerent; efforts by India to expand its presence in Arunachal Pradesh—a subject of territorial dispute with our Northern neighbour—have been met with similar aggressive responses. Projects like Bogibeel hold out hope of India overcoming the infrastructure deficit, which cramped its strategic response in the past.

Finally, the history of the bridge holds out a reminder on the tardiness with which India has approached infrastructure creation in the past. It is a luxury India can’t afford anymore as it races to realize its inherent economic potential. Not only did this, in the case of Bogibeel, cause a cost overrun, it also denied people residing in a topographically difficult region vital infrastructure. This has to change.

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