A backward State in terms of surface communication, Assam is set to see better days a few years down the road if four key projects are completed in time. The foundation stones for the four projects were laid by Union minister Nitin Gadkari on Saturday — a ship repair facility at Pandu, four laning of four new sections of NH-37, and two bridges across the Brahmaputra with one connecting Jorhat and North Lakhimpur through Majuli and the other connecting Sivasagar and Lakhimpur districts via Desangmukh. Gadkari also iugurated the roll on-roll off (Ro-Ro) ferry service between Dhubri and Hatsingimari on the Brahmaputra. For long Majuli, mostly in the news for floods and missing out on the UN’s World Heritage status year after year, has this time made it to the headlines with the hope that the planned Rs 10,000 crore bridge will end its geographical isolation. Gadkari spoke of Xatradhikars joining hands with youth and social organizations to press for connecting Majuli with the outside world. Surely all talk of safeguarding Majuli from the Brahmaputra and preserving its Vaishvite culture and unique ecosystem is meaningless, if it is not even well connected via transport network for urgently moving men and materials. Likewise for the people of Lakhimpur in North Bank, the planned road and bridge connection from Sivasagar to Lakhimpur via Dhakuakho and from Lakhimpur over Luit-Khabolu to Majuli and then on to Jorhat — promises to help release a lot of productive energy with positive implications for the entire area’s economy. As for Pandu which had a ship repair facility abandoned in 1990, the new slipway project is aimed to upgrade it by December 2018 with an investment of Rs 51 crore. After this makeover, the Pandu facility is expected to simultaneously handle three vessels up to 60 metres in length, with provision for expansion later to build ships.
The Ro-Ro ferry service iugurated between Dhubri and Hatsingimari promises to facilitate movement of trucks between the North and South banks over waterway and thereby cut road distance from 220 km to 30 km. Ro-Ro services in three more places across the Brahmaputra and a bridge to connect Dhubri-Phulbari are on the anvil, Gadkari has informed, pointing to the need to reduce logistics cost of passenger and goods traffic from 18 per cent to at least 12 per cent by using waterways. The Union Road Transport and Shipping minister also reiterated Central plans to announce 106 tiol waterways across the country, including 11 in Assam. To be connected by Inland Water Transport Authority, the 11 waterways in Assam will include the Barak, Gangadhar, Puthimari, Kopili, Aai, Dhansiri, Subansiri, Dehing and Dikhou rivers. Overall, the Centre will invest Rs 25,000 crore for developing roads, bridges and waterways in Assam in the next 2-3 years, Gadkari has promised. But according to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, these are but mere promises ‘to hoodwink the people’ of a poll-bound State. Questioning how can project cost be estimated without preparing detailed project reports (DPRs), the Chief Minister was reportedly so miffed that he skipped Gadkari’s foundation stone laying functions despite being invited. Other ministers and senior bureaucrats too followed the Chief Minister’s cue and stayed away. Gogoi had earlier complained loudly that Prime Minister Modi has been iugurating projects in Assam ‘initiated by the previous Congress-led UPA government’. Even if there is a modicum of truth in his charge, so what? Given the sil’s pace in implementing projects in the State, did the CM expect the same government of his liking at the Centre to initiate and iugurate projects, thereby delivering him the votes on a platter? Taking the example of only two Eastern States Bihar and West Bengal — their Chief Ministers have, more often than not, made it a point to attend such events with the Prime Minister and other Central ministers. That has not deterred Nitish Kumar or Mamata Banerjee to make their own pitches from that platform to the electorate. Assam needs development urgently; it can do without such politically motivated quarrels with the Centre and churlish displays of petty-mindedness. As BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary recently put it in his characteristic style — the money to develop BTAD must come somehow, and that money ‘does not have Modi’s or Sonia’s image on it’!