The Dhola-Sadiya bridge. (PTI)
Tinsukia, May 18: The Assam government has sent a proposal to the Union ministry of road transport and highways to hand over the security of Dhola-Sadiya bridge, to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 26, to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
The final shape to the proposal, estimated at Rs 39.88 crore, was given by the public works department (NH works), Assam, on the basis of requirements provided by the home department.
The bridge, India's longest and Asia's second longest river bridge, is capable of withstanding a 60-tonne battle tank.
Talking to The Telegraph, executive engineer of PWD (NH works), Assam, Jatin Nath, said, "A joint survey was conducted with officials of Assam police, CISF, PWD (NH works), Assam and project manager of Navyuga Engineering Company Limited." According to the survey, "at any point of time over 200 armed personnel, in one shift, will be required to safeguard the bridge," said Nath. "Hence, the proposal to house one battalion of the CISF on almost 30 bighas of land on the north bank of Dhola-Sadiya bridge was prepared."
Nath said the proposal accommodated the requirements of the central force, including construction of barracks, offices, quarters, parade ground and a trauma centre. "It also included other needs of the CISF to safeguard the bridge like night-vision goggles, CCTVs, control room, motor boats, drones and vehicles." Every 200 metres, a mobile checkpost will be set up while there will be permanent checkposts at both the ends, Nath added.
Regional officer of the ministry, Paban Kumar, told The Telegraph that there was another proposal mooted to light up the entire 9.16-km bridge for security purposes. "Safety aspects for commuters, including highway patrol, display of emergency numbers at regular gap were also taken up," Kumar added.
According to sources, the proposal for lighting runs into Rs 30 crore and is yet to be approved by the Centre. Highly placed sources in the government said Dhola-Sadiya bridge is a strategic asset and its security is a matter of concern. Dhola and Sadiya, being militant-infested area, has made it more vulnerable.
On the instruction of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, a few meetings were held in Dispur between the home department and PWD on the security of the bridge and this proposal was submitted. At present, the security of the bridge rests with the Assam police until the time the Centre clears the decks for handing the security cover to the CISF.
The opening of the bridge, less than 100km from the Sino-Indian border, will reduce movement of army troops to the Anini side of the border by over one-and-a-half days, becoming game-changer for the army on this front in times of war. Anini, the last district headquarters in Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh, is on the easternmost border between India and China.
In 1962, the Chinese army invaded right upto Walong on the Kibithu front, around 90km northeast of Anini. The bridge is an alternative route, besides the Alubari bridge and Parshuram Kund routes to Walong and Kibithu close to China border.
"The Chinese have recently built Golongla tunnel to connect their last strategic township, Meto, across the border from Anini, under Ngiti prefecture, making deployment and movement of their troops on the forward locations faster. Ngiti, almost 25km from the McMahon Line, already has an airfield, giving the Chinese army an upper hand on this front of the border," a defence expert said.
"Dhola-Sadiya bridge is the need of the hour from defence point of view," said the expert, adding: "The bridge will be of great strategic importance for the army in bringing troops closer to the China border, besides deploying strategic weapons and assets."
Against the backdrop of reports of China developing communication channels by construction of rail and road networks along the border with India, it has become the primary requirement for the Centre to develop road and rail communications to these locations on the Indian side.
Moreover, China's repeated provocation by claiming Arunachal Pradesh as disputed land has increased diplomatic tension between the two countries. Reports of increasing Chinese incursion on various border fronts are only adding oil to the fire.
One such incursion took place when the Chinese army transgressed the border of Arunachal along Kibithu in Anjaw district on July 22, 2016.
Another defence expert said, "With the Dhola-Sadiya bridge in place, it will become very easy for the army to move strategic weapons and other assets closer to the border. It will fortify defence of our territories."