Tunnel under Brahmaputar

Shivam Sarmah

Biswanath: The Centre may drop its ambitious plan to build a twin tunnel under Brahmaputra connecting Numaligarh (NH-37 in South bank) and Gohpur (NH-15 in North bank). It was proposed primarily to protect Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site besides a strong message to China on India’s strategic connectivity expansion to an international border.

For this ambitious first of its kind under river project, NHIDCL had roped Louis Berger, an American consultancy & construction company. The project with a cost of Rs 12,807 Crores, is to be constructed 22 meters below the river bed with a total length of 33 km, which includes a 15.6 km tunnel & remaining 18 km approach road for both sides. Currently, it takes 6 hours by road to cover a distance of 225 km and the proposed tunnel will reduce travel time to less than an hour.

Apparently, the Assam government is keen on an elevated corridor over Kaziranga to reduce man-animal conflict which is awaiting the clearance from National Green Tribunal. The 35-km elevated road will run along an existing arterial highway from Jakhalabandha to Bokakhat. Earlier on Jan 2, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the Centre had virtually cleared the 35-km project.

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Moreover, the state government in the budget presented on March 16 also highlights this project worth Rs 4865crore. In his recent visit, President Ram Nath Kovind was apprised about the project to protect Kaziranga. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Sarma on Sunday held discussions with his Cabinet colleagues and other top officials on the proposed animal corridors in Kaziranga National Park.

Considering a win-win situation for humans & animals in Pench Tiger Reserve with an elevated stretch of highways on the Seoni (Madhya Pradesh)-Nagpur (Maharashtra) sector of the national highway 44, the elevated corridor plan in Kaziranga has a high chance of getting environmental approval. So far, the highway project over Pench is believed to be the world’s longest highway underpass built exclusively for wild animals.

NHIDCL is expected to submit the detailed project report of the Numaligarh- Gohpur tunnel to the Centre by April for review. If the elevated corridor over Kaziranga gets final approval, the under Brahmaputra tunnel connecting Numaligarh & Gohpur plan will be dropped, according to Senior official in NHIDCL.

Meanwhile, in Gohpur side from NH-15 up to the bank of Brahmaputra, an assessment was already done in mid-2021, by a team comprising NHIDCL, Louis Berger, Circle Office, PWD, Dept. of Forest and Dept. of Agriculture to evaluate valuation of affected homes, commercial buildings & land. The public in this area are living in uncertainty over the last 2.5 years. Local people said this uncertainty is causing serious loss as they are not able to make any concrete plan in terms of living or business.

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To boost defence capability Border Roads Organization has proposed another rail-cum-road tunnel connecting Misa in Nagaon & Tezpur in Sonitpur which is under advanced stage of consideration. In fact, in November, 2021 Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in this regard to expedite the groundwork.

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