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Barak Valley: Bridge ready but approach missing; How taxpayers' money is getting wasted

Rs 4.68 crore was sanctioned by the Assam Government to construct a bridge in Madhura Ghat which would connect Karatigram to Madhuramukh. This is the lifeline for three different gram-panchayats – Haticherra, Chuto Dudhpatil and Dudhpatil. This bridge was sanctioned by the state government considering the plight of more than 35,000 residents of these gaon panchayats. While on one side, the bridge reduces travel time to Haticherra via Karatigram by around 15 kilometers, on the other hand, it also expands the town.

After an invitation to tender, a construction company, known to be a close associate of former Congress Minister and now a BJP veteran Gautam Roy, bagged the contract. While the initial sanctioned amount Rs 4.68 crore also included the approach, mid-way, as per a letter from the chief engineer of the PWD, the construction of approaches was chopped off from the estimate. Subsequently, Rs 61 lakh was subtracted from the sanctioned amount.

The construction of the bridge was accepted as “complete” in 2015. More than five years have passed. BJP toppled Congress to form a government and is about to complete its term but no vehicles have driven on the bridge. Congress’ Rumi Nath and Ajit Sing failed to manage the approach, so did BJP’s Kishore Nath and Mihir Kanti Shome. A part of the bridge is in Udharbond Legislative Assembly Constituency and another one is in what marks the beginning of Borkhola constituency.

“The problem is in Borkhola side. A 400-meter long approach needs to be built but that happens to be on the land owned by residents,” said a local activist. “The problem is that both the governments (earlier Congress and later BJP) only offered lip-service, there was no serious effort to acquire the land,” the activist added.

BJP, however, is sitting on a double-edged sword. The fact is that this bridge was offered to them as a trouble-maker by the previous government. But, it cannot openly criticise the erstwhile government as most of the ministers have switched and joined BJP. A subdued Kishore Nath says, “We have tried multiple times but the locals are just not willing to cooperate.”

He adds, “In 2019, we had a meeting at my residence and another one at the spot. We convinced them to give the NOC and based on that a fund was released to construct the approach. But last moment, the locals withdrew their consent and said they will only give up their land once they get the payment. The sanctioned fund had to be diverted to something else and the acquisition file is with the Revenue Department.”

Ready bridge unready approach

On February 1, 2020, the then DC Cachar Barnali Sharma, MLA Mihir Kanti Shome, MLA Kishore Nath, J R Lalsim, District Development Commissioner, Executive Engineer of PWD and other officials visited all three bridges which are ready but not operational due to the unavailability of approaches. While one is at Madhuraghat, the other two are in Badripar and Sonai-Dungri, respectively.

After inspection, the former DC had said, “By March 10, both Madhuraghat and Badripar bridges will be ready. Approaches will be built and by April, we will have the bridges operational.”

We are in September. “March 10 projection was not rational as the process of land acquisition is complex. The 2013 act. is lengthy and needs a lot of approvals. The department has appealed to acquire land as per the 1965 act. which has been approved by the government. The PWD has submitted the proposal and the map and the revenue department is working on it. We also need to remember that there was a pandemic-induced lockdown followed by monsoon. I am hopeful we will have the bridge ready by this year,” said J R Lalsim, District Development Commissioner.

There is always a complaint in this region that the State Government does not sanction developmental projects for Barak Valley as it does for Bramhaputra Valley. There is another allegation, that the MLAs from this region do not get key portfolios. Here are three RCC bridges in a ready condition that can uplift thousands of lives, expand the town, declutter the congestion, and yet none of them are operational. In fact, in 2016, Barak Valley’s Parimal Suklabaidya was the PWD Minister of Assam.

“All he did was call a few engineers from his department and give some fake assurances, nothing more,” says a local activist from Dudhpatil who fought for the bridge. Why did the Congress Government sanction bridges worth crores without considering the approaches also remains a matter of question? Overall, Congress or BJP, the local leadership, the administration, and their lackadaisical attitude is definitely a big reason why Barak Valley continues to be in the periphery, far away from the core. Bridges built using taxpayers’ money are left unused, depreciating while people remain disconnected and areas stay underdeveloped.

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