DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
On Tuesday, Guwahati, Assam’s capital, witnessed scenes that may have reminded many of the days when the Saraighat Bridge didn’t exist over the Brahmaputra, and commuters had to cross the river by ferry. Pandu was the transshipment point, and the ferry, the lifeline, connecting Assam with the rest of India.
Decades have passed, but it took just a bamboo–laden truck to overturn Tuesday on the rickety Saraighat Bridge, now 53 year old, for traffic to come to a grinding halt. For nearly six hours, there was no traffic movement through the bridge. Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on both sides. Left with no altertive, people had to leave their vehicles and walk to the Pandu ghat to board ferries to cross over to the city–side.
Local television channels telecast footage of the chaos and people boarding ferries. Life is supposed to go on. But, there should be something called accountability, and, in this case, it lies primarily with the Assam Government. But, how is the Assam Government responsible for the truck overturning? It is merely an accident! But yes, the Assam Government is responsible for remaining a mute spectator to the miserably slow progress of the new bridge coming over the Brahmaputra, alongside the existing Saraighat Bridge.
One can’t understand as to why Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is not bothered about such critical issues. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had laid the foundation stone of the bridge in April 2007 and it was supposed to be operatiol by January 2010. Gammon India Ltd, the company building the bridge, seems to be taking its own sweet time. Is it because it is Assam where they are making it? The project cost was Rs 240 crore. One would like to know if the cost has escalated, and if so, is the Government meeting the additiol cost?
Well, it is the same sad story for the four–lane highway that starts on the outskirts of Guwahati and ends after crossing gaon (I am talking about the stretch that connects Guwahati onwards to eastern Assam). After years, the highway is just not ready. It is actually a driver’s nightmare. You press on the accelerator to gain speed because the stretch looks good, and within minutes you see a vehicle come charging at you from the opposite direction on the same lane! The highway authorities have not bothered to put up any caution signs nor has the concerned State Government department bothered to compel the highway authorities to do so. Who cares because the Chief Minister and the so–called VIPs usually travel in convoys with a pilot car leading with sirens blaring!
The Jorabat–gaon–Doboka stretch of the Asian Highway 1 (also part of the East–West Corridor project) is 145 km long and the initial project cost was Rs 1192 crore. The scheduled date of completion was December 2012. But work is still supposed to be going on although one does not see any activity while driving through the road. Yes, the Assam Government has not shown any urgency in pressing the Centre to get the work executed quickly. The highway authorities in turn blame the State Government for its ibility to resolve land acquisition issues. This is, of course, the culture of the Assam Government—delay work.
For the netas and babus in Assam, passages like the following means nothing because they seem to know things won’t change much. Look at this passage, for instance: “The Trans–Asian Highway and the East–West Corridor will not only link India, especially its Northeastern region with the vibrant economies of North–East Asia but will aid the Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC) initiative which in turn will strengthen bilateral and multilateral relations that will lead to development through creation of avenues for further intra–mural cooperation. In addition, for the Mekong–Ganga project to be effective, the Brahmaputra Valley is a crucial factor. According to alysts, roadways are a key part of the plan to open the Mekong–India Corridor to link India with the Asian economies of Indo–Chi. Bilateral trade will receive a boost because of Trans–Asian Highway as it provides the transport infrastructure necessary for building and strengthening trade and economic interaction with Association of Southeast Asian tions (ASEAN) states. More importantly, Northeast India, considered as one of the country’s economically backward areas can now become India’s gateway to the fast developing ASEAN region.”
What ‘Gateway’ man, we are only interested in winning elections...This seems to be what’s going on in the minds of our political leaders who can, if they want, change the way projects are being implemented in our region. We can only hope for the best and prepare for the worst.