At 9.15 kilometres, the country’s longest bridge, between Dhola and Sadia in Assam, is slated for commissioning later this year, about five years after construction commenced on the Rs 876 crore strategic project that would drastically improve road connectivity to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Road connectivity is crucial, as the state does not have a single operational airport along its 3488-km border with China. It just has an operational heliport near Itanagar. China, on the other hand, has vastly improved roads and is building or extending air strips on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“Currently, armed forces have to enter Arunachal Pradesh via Tezpur (about 186 km from Guwahati) in Assam. There is no bridge fortified for passage of tanks around Tinsukia from where troops can cross over to Arunachal Pradesh. It takes about two days from Tezpur to reach the border in Dibang and Anjaw,” says Akash Borah, a resident of Tinsukia and deputy manager, Navayuga Dhola Infra Projects Limited, which is executing the bridge project over the Brahmaputra.
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The bridge is 3.55 km longer than the sea link over the Mahim Bay in Mumbai — the longest bridge in the country so far. “Strategically this bridge is of great importance as it will significantly improve connectivity from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh,” said a senior official in the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways.
At present, Tinsukia (about 350 km east of Tezpur), on the eastern edge of Assam, is the closest access point to cross over to Lohit, and then to Anjaw district in Arunachal Pradesh. Buses and trucks ply from Tinsukhia via Parashuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh (a distance of about 152 km) and then 45 km onward to Teju. The road is circuitous and poorly developed. The other option is to ferry across the river but that too is difficult as the Brahmaputra keeps changing its course.
“The Dhola-Sadia bridge has been reinforced for the passage of T-72 tanks. Once the bridge is commissioned, it will take 30 minutes to cross over to Sadia, which is near the Lohit border. The travel time will be cut by up to four hours,” said Prashanta Bhattacharya, team leader, S N Bhobe & Associates — the independent engineer for the project. From there, it will take only a few hours to reach the LAC.
The Army has a cantonment at Walong, about 180 km from the district headquarters of Tezu in Lohit. A little ahead, the strategically important town of Kibithu (in Anjaw district) is located, with China to the north and Myanmar to the east. China has a sizeable deployment of troops opposite Kibithu Tatu, Tithang and at Rongtu Chu valley west of Tithang.
There have been repeated incursions by Chinese troops in the fish-tail area — called so because of the unique shape of the LAC there — in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh. In August 2013, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly crossed the LAC and occupied territory 20 km around Chaglagam in Anjaw district for nearly four days. PLA soldiers make no efforts to remove evidence of their intrusions as China doesn’t recognise Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory.
Senior government officials said while the process of raising a mountain strike corps has begun, India lacks infrastructure on its side of the LAC as compared to China. “Our troops have to be moved by air to advanced landing grounds and then walk several miles to the border posts. They are supplied by mule trains. The government has now taken a decision to strengthen the border road network,” said an official who did not wish to be identified.
While the construction work on the bridge started in November 2010, the letter of appointment was handed over in June 2011. The scope of the work includes construction of the 9.15 km bridge and 16.65 km of approach roads at a cost of Rs 876 crore. Of this, Rs 592 crore is being provided by the government.