Silchar: Though the Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch of the Barak river in Assam was declared as the 6th national waterway by the then finance minister P Chidambaram in his budget 2013-14, it appears the much sought after project is now in limbo.
P Chidambaram even went on record to say the minister of water resources will move a bill in Parliament to declare the 121 km stretch as the national waterway. He also said preparatory work is under way to build a grid connecting waterways and ports. The 12th Plan has an adequate outlay for capital works, including dredging, on the national waterways. The objective is to choose barge operators through competitive bidding to transport cargo on the national waterways.
The first transport contract, P Chidambaram disclosed, has been awarded in West Bengal from Haldia to Farakka. It is to be recollected that the Union Cabinet gave a nod to the introduction of a bill in the Parliament to give the status of national waterway to Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch on February 2014. The national waterway 6 will be on the network of waterways at the Sundarbans and extension of national waterways from Kollam to Kasaragod in Kerala. But, till date nothing concrete action plan seems to be in the offing except dredging undertaken a few months ago in Barak river, now suspended due to high floods.
It is further recalled that the Union Cabinet of UPA has also given approval for preparing projects and schemes for the development of infrastructure facilities on the Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch at an estimated cost of Rs.123 crore to be implemented in two phases. The first phase was to be completed by 2016-17 and the second phase by 2018-19. Sadly enough, neither the first phase nor the second phase has any visible presence on the ground. The impression given to the people of Barak during the UPA regime was that terminal ports would be built up at Lakhipur, Silchar, Badarpur and Karimganj.
The declaration of P Chidambaram from all account has been for public consumption. Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) which is the owner of the national waterway 6 and Central Inland Water Transport Corporation (CIWTC) the operator, have no answer to any development activity. People of Barak are now looking towards NDA government to give a concrete and effective shape to the national waterway 6 which when ready for operation will facilitate movement of cargo ship through Bangladesh and contribute towards the socio-economic development of not only this valley but also of the hinterland areas of Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur.
From historical records, it is found that very close to Badarpur, the nondescript village of Sealtek on the other side of river Barak, was an important trade centre with a port during the British era. It was during this British period that the ports for the large steamers from Kolkata were Badarpur, Sealtek, Jatingamookh and Machimpur. Sealtek was then an important centre of trade and commerce. Goods from Sylhet and other places were brought here by steamers and boats for sale. Traders not only came from different parts of Barak Valley but also from Tripura.