Bogibeel: from ‘small’ to big

India’s longest rail-road bridge that took Rs. 5,920 crore to build was born “small” on paper – a scribbled note in Parliament after a dramatic display of anger – 22 years ago. The 4.94 km Bogibeel, the fourth bridge across river Brahmaputra to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, was one of eight spans pursued in 1973 to ease the pressure on the 4,258-ft Saraighat Bridge on the western edge of Guwahati. Until the Saraighat was built in 1962, the Brahmaputra was the only river in India that had not been bridged along its entire length from delta to foothills either for road or railway. The first push for the bridge was from a citizen’s forum in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh. In June 1977, members of the forum submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Morarji Desai demanding the construction of the bridge at Bogibeel, about 17 km downstream of the town. But the bridge found no takers in New Delhi until it dramatically made its way into the Parliament less than two decades later. Angry outburst Based on another memorandum seeking the construction a bridge connecting Dibrugarh and Dhemaji, five MPs of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had a detailed project report prepared for Bogibeel soon after their election in 1996. But the Railway Board said the estimated project cost – Rs. 2,000 crore – was too much for a small State like Assam. The AGP parliamentarians, nevertheless, sought Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s support for the bridge they said would be crucial for communication and internal security of India’s easternmost part. The AGP was part of the United Front government that Mr. Deve Gowda headed. Party’s Birendra Prasad Baishya was the Minister of Steel and Mines while Muhiram Saikia was Minister of State for Human Resources Development. “I lost my temper when Bogibeel was missing from the Budget proposal at the Cabinet meeting prior to the Railway Budget during the Parliament session in September 1996. I told the PM and Ram Vilas Paswan (then Railway Minister)… they ignored us,” Mr. Baishya told The Hindu on Monday. Mr. Deve Gowda placated Mr. Baishya by asking Mr. Paswan to settle the Bogibeel issue. Moments later, Mr. Paswan had a brief meeting with AGP parliamentarians.

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