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A bridge too far

Bhupen Hazarika, who composed many a song on the Brahmaputra, had also nursed a grudge against the mighty river.

“The river had taken away Sadiya, the place where I was born, and I can never forgive it for that,” Hazarika had once said. Old Sadiya was washed away by the Brahmaputra in the devastating flood of 1952.

Sadiya, which is believed to have derived from Assamese word xo-diya meaning “burial of corpse”, is a microcosm of Assam in more ways than one.

Like elsewhere, it is a place of demographic potpourri; here migrants from other parts of India, mostly Bihar, and Nepal have assimilated into the indigenous communities like Ahoms, Misings and Kacharis. Its key issue, particularly floods and the politicians’ neglect of it, finds resonance across the length and breadth of the state, along the course of the Brahmaputra and its many tributaries and distributaries.

There are others who are as unforgiving as the bard was of the mighty river.

Lakhan Buragohain, a farmer from Chapakhowa in Sadiya, on the easternmost tip of Assam and 545km away from Guwahati, said, “We suffer a lot during the rainy season as the ferry service between Dhola and Sadiya remains suspended for months because of a rise in the water level of the Brahmaputra and we have to take a long detour through Arunachal Pradesh to travel to Tinsukia and other parts of the state.”

He is thus more concerned about the floods that are still a few months away than the Lok Sabha election for the Lakhimpur seat — under which this area falls — on Monday.

For the people of Sadiya, the Brahmaputra remains their very own river of sorrow — floods and erosion and river communication handicaps being their major problems.

Elections have come and gone, but the people of Sadiya are yet to get a bridge to cross the Brahmaputra.

The construction of the 9.15km Sadiya-Dhola bridge — touted to be the longest in the country and which can provide the much-needed succour from the transport bottleneck in these parts — had to be suspended for a few months. Floodwaters damaged equipment and materials and several roads leading to the site, besides forcing evacuation of workers in 2012.

According to Buragohain, some of the other problems faced by the people of Sadiya are breaches in embankments, which threaten to inundate villages if not repaired before the onset of monsoon, poor condition of roads, farmers getting insufficient help from the state government and last but not the least, erosion by the Brahmaputra.

Even when there is no flood, for people like 45-year-old milk vendor Babu Ram Bhagat, crossing the river every day by ferries takes a heavy toll on their time and money.

According to Bhagat, he has to spend Rs 160 for a round trip, along with his bicycle and milk containers, to reach Sadiya to fetch his daily supply of milk and return to Saikhowaghat in Dhola to sell it.

“Our transportation problems are likely to be solved to a large extent when the 9.15km bridge is completed. But we are unsure when that day will come as the construction is already behind schedule,” Bhagat, a resident of Zero Point area in Dhola, said.

The bridge will also cut down the travel time between Sadiya and Dhola by more than half-an-hour, he added.

Echoing Bhagat, Haresh Bora from Sadiya, a sixth semester undergraduate arts student of Makum College, said the absence of a bridge makes it inconvenient for him to travel everyday from his home to college, a distance of around 35km. He complained that the charges of private ferries were exorbitant and their service erratic while the state government-owned ferry service was available only thrice a day at 9am, 11.30am and 2.30pm.

Both Bhagat and Bora said they would vote for the candidate who promises to expedite the construction of the bridge, which has slowed down, and take up projects to give respite to Sadiya from the fury of floods. The completion of the bridge will make transportation easier to some parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

The construction of the bridge, which is being carried out by Nayayuga Engineering Company Ltd and scheduled to be completed by 2014, will now take another couple of years to complete.

The construction began in 2010 after the project was taken up by the Union ministry of road transport and highways in the public-private partnership mode with Nayayuga.

The Lakhimpur parliamentary constituency will this time witness a direct contest between sitting Congress MP and Union minister of state for tribal affairs Ranee Narah and Assam BJP president and former MP Sarbananda Sonowal. Narah, who is a three-time MP from Lakhimpur, is likely to face a stiff challenge from Sonowal in retaining the seat for the fourth time.

The Lakhan Buragohains, the Babu Ram Bhagats and the Haresh Boras will vote on the appointed day and send one of them to the House of the People.

They will then wait like they always have. The Brahmaputra won’t, though. It never has.