NE Dispatch: Assam to Get New Highway; Dalai Lama Has an Emotional Reunion

A roundup of news this week from the Northeast.

Assam: First-of-its-kind express highway soon

An estimated Rs 40,000 crores will be spent to develop an express highway in Assam. The highway will be the first of its kind in the Northeast, union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said on April 4.

Without giving any deadline for the completion of the project, Gadkari, speaking at the closing ceremony of the Assam government’s multi-crore Namami Brahmaputra festival, said the 1,300 km-long highway will be built along the banks of the Brahmaputra.

Asking state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who was also at the event, to begin the process of acquiring land for the project, Gadkari reportedly said the highway will be axis-controlled and vehicles will be able to move at very high speeds.

Gadkari said, “The sand and the soil that would come from dredging the river will be used to lay the road”.

Earlier in the day, in a meeting presided over by Gadkari, a tripartite agreement was signed between the state government, the National Highways Authority of India and the Inland Waterways of India to dredge the riverbed of the Brahmaputra from Sadia in upper Assam near Arunachal Pradesh to Dhubri in western Assam in order to increase the number of navigational channels to the Chittagong port in Bangladesh.

In January, Sonowal launched a survey for the proposed highway and credited the concept to Gadkari. He then added that the length of the highway will be 890 km spreading “from Sadiya in the east to Dhubri in the west, which in turn would help arrest river-bank erosion.”

Recently, while speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Sonowal said the project to dredge the river will solve the problem of erosion in Majuli. “We are working on a project to dredge the riverbed so that it can hold more water. This will allow for the passage for ships of up to 10,000 metric tonnes via the river,” he said.

Waterways as a mode of transport have been largely ignored, said Sonowal. “The British used the Brahmaputra to transport Digboi’s oil, Margherita’s coal and Tinsukia and Dibrugarh’s tea, on to Bangladesh via the Padma (river), and then on to other parts of the world to develop a global trade environment. The river is the cheapest mode of travel. If rail transport costs you a rupee and road transport Rs 1.5, river transport costs only 30 paise,” he told DNA in response to a question.

Sonowal also said a 126-km long twin bridge will be constructed to connect Majuli with the rest of the state. The twin bridge will be India’s largest, he added.

Assam: Dalai Lama meets army jawan who was among first to receive him at Indian border in 1959

On April 2, the Dalai Lama had an emotional reunion in Guwahati with one of the five Assam Rifles jawans who received him at the Indian border on March 30, 1959.

Havildar Naren Chandra Das, now 79, is the only surviving member of that group of jawans.

Das, who now resides in Balipara town in Assam, came dressed in an Assam Rifles uniform to meet the Dalai Lama at the state government’s Namami Brahmaputra festival. The Dalai Lama embraced him warmly and offered him a shawl.

“Thank you very much…looking at you, I now realise I must be very old too,” he said, laughing.

The Dalai Lama with the retired jawan of Assam Rifles, Naren Das, in Guwahati. Credit: PTI

The Dalai Lama with the retired jawan of Assam Rifles, Naren Das, in Guwahati. Credit: PTI

Das, accompanied by Assam Rifles director general Lieutenant General Shokin Chouhan, told those present, “Guards of Assam Rifles Platoon No. 9 brought the Dalai Lama from Zuthangbo and handed him over to five of us at Shakti (in Arunachal Pradesh bordering Bhutan and China). We then took him to Lungla from where he was escorted to Tawang town by another group of guards.”

Earlier, at the commander’s conference held at Assam Rifles headquarters Shillong,  Chouhan felicitated Das in the presence of the rank and file of the force.

Assam: Northeast free of metre gauge railway track

With the commissioning of a broad gauge passenger train from Baraigram to Dullabcherra in Karimganj district of Assam on March 31, the Northeast has bid goodbye to its old metre gauge railway tracks.

The 30-km route, under the railway ministry’s Lumding-Silchar-Kumarghat gauge conversion project, was the last metre gauge stretch in the region.

Union minister of state for railways Rajen Gohain, an MP from Nowgong in Assam, flagged off the first broad gauge passenger train on the newly converted tracks.

Union minister of state for railways Rajen Gohain. Credit: Twitter

Union minister of state for railways Rajen Gohain. Credit: Twitter

“Now, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has become fully free of metre gauge tracks though there are many places in the country where they are still in use,” Gohain reportedly said on the occasion.

In March 2015, Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu inaugurated the first phase of the Lumding-Silchar broad gauge line by flagging off a goods train over a video conference call from New Delhi.

The second phase, however, failed to meet the deadline set by the ministry. A note released by the Press Information Bureau of the central government dated March 27, 2015, said, “The phase-II (of the project) consists of gauge conversion of three sections namely; Badarpur – Kumarghat, Baraigram-Dullabcherra and Silchar-Jiribam, which will be completed by 31.03.2016.”

On March 31, speaking to reporters, Gohain also said that the central government is working on a recruitment policy specially aimed at youth from Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast and the naxal-affected areas.

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