The Northeast region of the country has been ignored for long as far as infrastructure development is concerned. Capitals of Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim, and Nagaland are not connected by railways even after 70 years of independence. In the last seven decades, governments over the time ignored the infrastructure in the northeast primarily due to two reasons. The first being hilly terrain of these regions which pushes the cost as well as the time required in developing the infrastructure projects in the region and the second being, the mighty Brahmaputra river. The sharp stream and the gigantic width of this river make infrastructure development possible for only six months in a year when the flow relatively slows down. But developing the infrastructure in the regions where the Brahmaputra is spread becomes necessary as the northern part, the river connects, borders China.
The connectivity over Brahmaputra River and the hilly terrains of the northeast has been the priority of Modi government since it came to power in 2014. The government has approved construction of the longest river bridge between the states of Assam and Meghalaya to be completed by 2026. The 19.3 km long bridge will connect Dhubri in Assam to Phulbari in Meghalaya and shorten the existing distance of 203 km and save almost two and a half hours for commuters. This will be the longest river bridge in the country, leaving behind the 9.3 km long Dhola-Sadiya Bridge which is built on Lohit River, a tributary of mighty Brahmaputra. The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge was inaugurated by PM Modi in May last year; it connects Assam with Arunachal Pradesh near the China border.
Till now the Saraighat Bridge was the major connectivity point in the Indian part of the Brahmaputra River. This was the first rail cum Road Bridge in India opened in 1963. Dibang River Bridge was also opened in 2018 on Dibang River; a tributary of the Brahmaputra, this 6.2 km long bridge is currently the second longest in the country. The 5 km long rail cum road Bogibeel Bridge which connects Dhemaji and Dibrugarh districts of Assam is also set to be opened in December 2018.
The draft for the bridge between Dhubri in Assam and Phulbari in Meghalaya has been prepared by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The initial funds for the project will come from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) while the National Highways and Industrial Development Corporation Limited (NICL) has been chosen as executing agency for the project. “We will be floating tenders for the project and target to award the work during this financial year. It will be a public-funded work. The construction of any bridge across the Brahmaputra takes time since construction work can be carried out only for six months in a year,” said an NHIDCL official. The execution of the project will catalyze economic activities on both the sides of the river and is going to be beneficial for the economy of both states. The project is largely funded by the central government, therefore; it will not take a toll at the public finances of Assam and Meghalaya and cut the travel time between respective states to 15-20 minutes.
Two more bridges have been proposed by the government on the Brahmaputra River. One will connect Gohpur on NH-22 to Numaligarh on NH-37 and the other one will connect Kaupati and Rowta. The government has also proposed to make the 1026 km of National Highways in Assam four-lane. The focus on infrastructure in Assam and other states of Northeast will push the connectivity in the region as well as ease the movement of Armed Forces in the case of external exigencies. Modi government has pitched for investment in infrastructure for the development of the northeastern part of the country. Majority of the projects in the region are funded by central government because private investors still hesitate in making the investment in the region due to low Return on Investment (RoI). But as the government funding increases, the private investors will also put their money in the northeast and propel the economic growth of the northeast.