The period before Assembly elections in every State is, naturally, one of windfalls for that specific entity and Assam, where elections are expected to be held in April, is no exception. For quite some time now we have witnessed New Delhi not only opening her purse-strings, but also have had promises galore from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues. The latest of these have been communication related, with the focus being on the Brahmaputra river. Last Thursday the Prime Minister virtually laid the foundation stone of two bridges in Assam, including a 19-km-long bridge from Dhubri to Phulbari in Meghalaya. This four-lane bridge over the Brahmaputra will be located on the NH-127B, originating from Srirampur on the NH-27 (East-West Corridor), and terminating at Nongstoin on the NH-106 in Meghalaya. To be built at a total cost of approximately Rs 4,997 crore, the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge is expected to improve connectivity between the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys while also reducing the distance between Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram. Surprisingly, during his speech at the ‘foundation stone’ laying ceremony of this bridge, Assam’s Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary termed it as “a dream come true” for the people of this region. One, naturally, assumes that the dream will come true only after the bridge is actually completed, and one must surely not count one’s chickens before they are hatched!
This remains particularly valid for the second bridge, that between Jorhat and the river island of Majuli, the ‘commencement of works’ for which was also virtually flagged off on the same day by Modi. This two-lane road bridge is a far modest venture compared to the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge, designed as it is to connect Kamalabari in Majuli and Nimatighat in Jorhat, and being only 6.2 kms long and costing Rs 925.47 crore. Curiously enough, almost exactly five years back, on February 26 just before the 2016 Assam Assembly elections which the BJP won handsomely, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs, Nitin Gadkari, had laid the foundation stone for this particular bridge, thereby underlining the truism that pre-election promises are not always translated into reality. It is to be hoped that, with the same Union Minister being present on the ‘commencement of works’ for this bridge, it will actually become ‘a dream come true’ for the people of the river island this time around. If a rationale for such scepticism is called for, one may recall the fate of the 4.9-km Bogibeel bridge, Asia’s second longest rail-cum-road bridge, the foundation stone for which was laid by then Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, in January 1997, but was finally completed and inaugurated in December 2018! The Northeast has seen similar delays with other major projects including the much-awaited land connectivity under the Act East policy.