Significance of Dhola-Sadiya Bridge

Introduction

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge across river Lohit on 26 May 2017. It happens to be India’s longest bridge, with a span of 9.15 km and connects Dhola village in Assam with Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
Rivers Lohit, Dibang and Siang join up to form the Brahmaputra downstream of the site of this bridge. The Dhola- Sadiya is the only bridge over River Brahmaputra after the Kaliabhomora Bridge near Tejpur in Assam, which is nearly 375 km downstream from Dhola.
Sadiya is the birthplace of India’s prominent ballad singer, late Bhupen Hazarika. The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge has been named after him as the Bhupen Hazarika Setu.
The travel time from Dhola Gaon to Sadiya Islampur Tiniali through the existing Parsuram Kund Bridge was nearly eight hours, while through ferry service it used to take 4.5 hours. However, the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge connectivity will make the journey possible in just 30 minutes, reducing travel time by four hours.
Specifications of the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge
·         The construction of three-lane , 9.15 kilometres long Dhola Sadiya Bridge commenced in 2011.
·         The total length of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge project, including the approach roads on each side, is 28.5 km.
·         The Bridge has been constructed on BOT (build, operate, transfer) annuity basis at a total cost of Rs 2,056 crore, as part of the Arunachal Package of Roads and Highways under the Ministry’s Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for North East (SARDP-NE).
·         It is earthquake-proof and has seismic buffers in all its 182 piers.
·         The Bridge classification of this bridge is 60 tonnes, i.e. it is capable to withstand the weight of Indian Main Battle tanks, like Arjun and T-90.
Socio-economic Significance of Dhola-Sadiya Bridge
·         The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge will enhance all weather connectivity between upper Assam and eastern parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Earlier, crossing of Brahmaputra at this location was possible only by ferry and that too during the day light hours. The monsoons invariably created a flood situation every year and movement across became completely ‘no-go’.
·         The bridge will also reduce the distance from Rupai on NH-37 in Assam to Meka/Roing on NH-52 in Arunachal Pradesh by 165km, cutting down on travel time from the current six hours to just one hour.
·         Consequently, it is envisaged that the reduction in distance will help to save petrol and diesel worth Rs 10 lakh a day.
·         The enhanced connectivity to remote and backward areas in the interiors will give a major boost to the overall economic development of the areas north of Brahmaputra in upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Availability of opportunities in these backward areas will go a long way to control insurgency, e.g. Bodo insurgency.
·         Also, the militant factions like ULFA and Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) used to take advantage of poor connectivity by moving to safe hideouts in Arunachal Pradesh after carrying out strikes in Assam. Intelligence gathering and speed of response of the security forces will considerably improve, resulting in tightening of the noose around the insurgents.
·         The region has a plethora of natural resources like hydro-potential, oil and gas, coal, limestone, bamboo and forest wealth. The improved road connectivity will facilitate numerous hydro power projects coming up in the states and also generate employment and promote economic well being for the people.
·         Towards this end, PM Modi launched a Scheme for Agro-Marine Processing and Development of Agro-Processing (SAMPADA) to promote food processing. He promised to make the North-East the economic hub of “new India”.
·         Furthermore, a two-lane trans-Arunachal highway is under construction, besides upgrading another World War-II vintage road and four projects are underway to widen roads across Arunachal Pradesh.
·         Presently, there is no civilian airport in Arunachal Pradesh. By using this bridge connectivity, the people from this area will be able to reach the nearest railhead at Tinsukia and airport at Dibrugarh in a much faster timeframe.
·         Lastly, the bridge will increase industrial investments with better border trade between the Northeast and South Asian countries.
Military Significance of Dhola-Sadiya Bridge
·         China claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own, and refers to it as “southern Tibet”. It is highly sensitive to India’s any promotional activity in this sector for the simple reason that Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh happens to be one of the most significant centres of Tibetan Buddhism.
·         Hence, the centre of gravity of its control over Tibet lies in controlling the activities in Twang sector.
·         India had lost this sector to China during the 1962 war. However, China had declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew its troops from the captured areas of this sector. The primary reason for the same was that during winters South Tibet Himalaya becomes very inhospitable and disables Chinese troops to hold any of its part in Arunachal Pradesh.
·         Thus, Arunachal Pradesh is strategically important to India as it provides a natural Himalayan boundary that protects India from China.
·         At present, there is no existing bridge in the region that is strong enough to allow the movement of tanks to Tinsukia, from where troops usually enter Arunachal. Availability of this Class 60 Bridge, located less than 100km from the Chinese border, will for the first time ever, allow the induction of Main Battle Tanks and other heavy equipment into Arunachal Pradesh.
·         The bridge will enhance India’s defence preparedness as it will facilitate swift and all weather movement of troops and warlike stores in convoys from Assam to the posts along the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh.
·         China, has been improving its military infrastructure along the border in Tibet with a string of new railway lines, roads and at least five new airports. It is believed that India was so much on the defensive after the 1962 debacle, that it did not improve its connectivity in the region for the fear of China using it against India during the next Indo-China war.
·         However, times have changed and today India stands much more confident to face China’s threat. India has already raised two mountain divisions and is going ahead with raising a strike corps to beef up its defences against China.
·         Hence, improving ‘military infrastructure’ to maintain these force level in the region warrants greater investments in developing road and rail links.
Conclusion
The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge will play a significant role in easy and early mobilisation of requisite force levels to the Indo-China borders to protect our territorial integrity, as also to prevent China from arm twisting India, being at an advantageous position.
Notwithstanding, India’s initiatives to improve the infrastructure in the North East, there is still a lot of ground to be covered to match up with the level of military infrastructure developed by China along the Indo-Tibetan border.

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