Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate India’s longest span, the 9.15 km Dhola-Sadiya bridge across river Lohit at the easternmost tip of Assam, on May 26.
The bridge is 3.55 km longer than the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai. The opening of the bridge is among the highlights of Modi’s programme during his visit to Assam to attend the first anniversary of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government.
Lohit is one of three rivers – the others are Dibang and Siang – that meet to form the Brahmaputra downstream of the site of the bridge that connects Dhola village and Sadiya town, 540 km east of Assam’s principal city Guwahati.
Sadiya is the birthplace of balladeer Bhupen Hazarika.
The bridge, designed to facilitate the movement of battle tanks, is expected to help movement of troops to the border with China in the Wallong-Kibithu sector in southern Arunachal Pradesh. The sector had fallen along with Tawang in the northwest to the Chinese in the 1962 war.
The project, worth ₹950 crore, was started in 2011. It will reduce the travel time for people on either bank of river Lohit by at least eight hours.
But Dhola-Sadiya is not the only bridge in the Northeast that will go into the record books.
Longest rail-road bridge
Also expected to be inaugurated by 2018 is Bogibeel, the fourth and easternmost bridge across the Brahmaputra. This bridge near Dibrugarh town, 4.94 km in length, will be India’s longest road-rail bridge.
Like Dhola-Sadiya, Bogibeel will also be of immense strategic importance as it will enable faster troop movements across the Brahmaputra besides providing a direct link between people on opposite banks who have to take a 500km detour via the existing Kalia Bhomora Bridge downstream.
Bogibeel connects Dibrugarh town on the southern bank of Brahmaputra and Silapathar on the northern bank.
The construction of the bridge, approved in 1996, was initiated by the first BJP-led NDA government in 2002. The Congress-led UPA government acknowledged the strategic importance of the bridge and declared it as a national project in 2007.
But the progress of the project, undertaken by the firm that build Bandra-Worli Sea Link, has been slow. The cost has thus spiralled from the initial Rs 1,767 crore in 2002 to Rs 6,000 crore now.
Longest tunnel, tallest rail bridge
Arguably Indian Railway’s toughest project, this line will boast of two Indian records once completed by 2020. These are the longest railway tunnel and the tallest railway bridge.
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) started construction of this line – originally part of the ambitious Trans-Asian Railway – in 2008 after it was declared as a national project. Railway officials said work was progressing at speed despite challenges of weather, terrain and militants.
The project is in two sections – the 84km Jiribam-Tupul and the 27km Tupul-Imphal – spanning 111km. The track will pass through 45 tunnels, 25 of which were completed by April 2016.
The total length of the tunnels would be 60.2 km, which is more than half the total track length, and the longest one (Tunnel 12) would be 11.55 km long to displace the current record-holder Banihal in in Kashmir from the top spot by 100 metres.
“The two sections have 22 major and 142 minor bridges. These include what will be the world’s tallest rail bridge with a pier height of 141 metres – almost equal to two Qutab Minars stacked over each other,” NFR spokesperson Pranav Jyoti Sharma told HT.
Because of terrain and scanty population, the entire stretch of this project will have nine stations, Tupul on the outskirts of Manipur capital Imphal being the easternmost.
The anticipated cost of the project is Rs 9,657 crore, which compares favourably with the similarly treacherous 210 km Lumding-Silchar hill section in Assam that was sanctioned in 1996-97 at an initial cost of Rs 648 crore but ended up costing Rs 6,000 crore upon completion in 2015.
The railway line is expected to give Manipur’s landlocked Imphal Valley – often troubled by highway blockades in the surrounding Naga hills – a cheaper route to the India beyond. Also, the movement of goods by train is expected to bring down prices from India, though Manipur sustains mainly through imports from Myanmar.
The railway line from Manipur is expected to be extended to Moreh on the border with Myanmar where border trade averages Rs 350 million annually.