SILCHAR, Dec 27: The problem of connectivity in Barak Valley even after more than sixty years of Independence with all the resources of technology of the time and massive funding by the Centre is really paradoxical. Journey through the National Highway-44 to reach Guwahati for access to mainland is always nightmarish mainly due to man-made factors. The worst shape of the 70-km stretch of the highway between Badarpur and Malidahar in Assam, now under the maintenance of PWD (NH Division), has further added to the woes suffering of travelling public.
Silchar-Lumding BG and East-West corridor are still a distant dream.
Journey by metre gauge (MG) hills section train services is a long detour with transshipment at Lumding. Coming monsoons, as it happens, will only make the surface links of the valley with the rest of the world more uncertain.
Being cut off and isolated, it tells heavily on the economy of the region. There is now public demand for reviving the abandoned Harangajao – Nellie Road.
The British Government took 10 years (1893-1904) to complete 247-km Silchar-Badarpur-Lumding MG rail link with 37 tunnels and 586 bridges through the most inhospitable terrains of North Cachar Hills in order to connect the valley with Guwahati and Dibrugarh not only for the benefit of the travelling public but also to facilitate transportation of coal, oil and tea for export from upper Assam to Chittagong Port in Bangladesh.
The Indian Railways, on the other hand, is still struggling to lay down BG track through the hills whose foundation stone was laid in 1996 by the then Railway Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan. The website of the N F Railway speaks of 25 per cent of the work having been completed. It also goes beyond one’s comprehension as to why the Centre and the State do not lay stress on rebuilding or repairing the 100-km stretch of Udharband – Haflong PWD road, now in a totally ruined state, to provide surface link of Silchar with Guwahati via Lanka, Daboka, Nagaon, and Hojai. Worst of all, the East-West corridor is in limbo, caught in the cobweb of deep rooted corruption over the acquisition of land, as well as extremists threat.
Paritosh Paul Chowdhury, journalist, leading citizen and President of Barak Vikash Parishad, has come out with his well-studied alternative access to Barak Valley which he claims to be “easy and cost effective”, and will link Silchar with Guwahati via Udharband, Harangjao, Turuk, Umrangshu, Panmore, Nellie and Jagiroad. Paul Chowdhury said, “I have been pursuing this alternative access with Santosh Mohan Dev, former Union Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam, Central Surface Minister, T R Balu and PWD ministers of the State for the last several months”. He impressed upon former PWD Minister Sarat Barokotoky to dedicate the stretch of road between Harangjao and Nellie to Vir Senapati Chilarai. “It is not a new route. It is just the revival of the surface link that existed centuries ago,” he pointed out.
Silchar-based NH division executive engineer when asked by the CMO to send a report on the proposed road replied in his letter dated July 17, 2007 that “Under the point of view stated above the route in question is much more feasible than that of the other route as proposed.” This only strengthened the campaign for the new link. MLA of Karimganj Mission Ranjan Das raised the issue in the State Assembly. LM Shuklabaidya, MP of Karimganj, too addressed the matter in the Lok Sabha. Justifying the opening of this route, Paritosh Paul Chowdhury said since the length of the road would be 285 km, it would reduce the distance between Silchar and Guwahati by 65 km as opposed to the Silchar – Shillong – Guwahati route and by 136 km as opposed to the East-West Corridor. He further clarified the proposed alternative route passes through plains. From all reckoning, it will make the journey cheap, easy, safe and time saving. Once the road becomes operational, it will also boost up the State exchequer. The president of the parishad pointed out, “With mass support behind, I finally discussed the vital surface link with Santosh Mohan Dev”. After being convinced about its feasibility, Dev as Union minister placed it before the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on October 1 last which was presided over by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who gave his consent to the proposal. The fax message received by him said, “The CCEA took the landmark decision in regard to modified special accelerated development in the Northeast which included an alternative road from Silchar to Guwahati which would reduce journey time and avoid passing through landslide-prone Sonapur and other areas in Meghalaya. THE SENTINEL