Assam on Tuesday witnessed one of the biggest milestones in modern day – the inauguration of the much awaited Bogibeel Bridge connecting the south bank of Brahmaputra of Dibrugarh district and the north bank of Dhemaji district in the north bank.
The inauguration of the bridge has undoubtedly opened the flood gates for development of the districts of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur and also at least 15 districts of the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh.
The bridge is expected to enhance trade and commerce, apart from ushering in a revolutionary change in the health and education sector of the region.
The much-hyped inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw participation from Assam Governor Prof Jagdish Mukhi, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu and several others.
The grand inauguration was a cynosure for the media.
But some uncomfortable questions remain unanswered.
It has been hugely publicized that the Bogibeel Bridge has brought Eastern Assam closer to the national capital while train journey between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh now reduces from 500 km to 100 km. For the rest of India too, Dibrugarh has become accessible without travelling via Guwahati.
But at what cost?
The Bogibeel Bridge was sanctioned by the Government of India in 1997-98 and was expected to be completed by the end of the Ninth Five Year Plan (April 1, 1997 to March 31, 2002).
The foundation of the bridge was laid in January 1997 by the then Prime Minister H D Deva Gowda but construction was inaugurated only in 2002 by the then Prime Minister, A B Vajpayee.
After several years of slow progress, the Bogibeel Bridge was granted a national project status by the Government of India in 2007 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Accordingly, the Union Ministry of Finance is funded 75 per cent of the project costs while the Ministry of Railways was supposed to bear the rest.
The bridge was then planned to be completed by 2009 but has since witnessed huge time and cost overruns.
Also read: Bogibeel readies for inauguration
Initially estimated at Rs 17.67 billion, the cost of completion has since escalated to Rs 32.30 billion and the final cost came to around Rs 49.96 billion.
Civil work on Bogibeel Bridge has been completed but electrical and signalling work still remains to be completed.
Coming to the inauguration, the ultimate showman in Indian politics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took recourse in quite an antics to woo the people (read prospective voters) gathered there to witness the momentous occasion.
From walking down the Bogibeel Bridge alone breaching security protocol to embarking into an open jeep belonging to a television crew again a break from protocol, Modi laid the foundation of what appeared to be more of an pre-election speech minutes later.
Quoting the famous lines of the Bard of Brahmaputra, Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s immoral song ‘Maha Bahu Brahmaputra’ to naming all those brave hearts who had shaped greater Assam, Modi went on to exaggerate what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had done to bridge the two banks of River Brahmaputra.
However, ironically there was no mention of the then Union Minister of Steel and Mines and senior Asom Gana Parishad leader Birendra Prasad Baishya.
Notably, it wsa on Baishya’s initiative when he was a minister in the H D Deve Gowda Cabinet, that the proposal for the Bogibeel Beel was placed in the Parliament.
However, the passage was not so smooth. Baishya along with other parliamentarians from the State had to toil hard, even resorting to protests outside Parliament.
Only then Baishya and company could persuade the then Union Railways Minister Ram Bilas Paswan to take up the Bogibeel Bridge construction issue in the Parliament.
Let alone the Prime Minister, not a single state leader including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, a former AGP parliamentarian and a former All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader did not even had the audacity to fleetingly refer to Baishya.
Baishya, nor any AGP leader was invited for the inauguration of the Bogibeel Bridge.
Notably, the Bogibeel Bridge was an important clause in the historic Assam Accord of 1985.
It was incorporated in the accord as one of several major infrastructural projects to be set up in Assam in accordance with the pact.
However, no one even mentioned about that, let alone inviting AASU leadership to the inauguration function.