The Telegraph
Saturday , May 20 , 2017

Bridge of hopes & sighs

- That sinking feeling: 2000 to lose jobs after Dhola-Sadiya link opens

Tinsukia, May 19: The sight of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, which promises to be a time-saver for the people of two states, induces a sinking feeling in Bishwajit Roy, an employee of a ghat for many years.

Roy, employed by the lessee of the ghat, lives in fear of the impending prospect of losing his livelihood. So do nearly 2,000 others.

Depending on a ferry to cross to the mainland for treatment, education and during emergencies will be a thing of the past for the local residents of Sadiya sub-division and Arunachal's Roing district and adjacent areas north of the Brahmaputra.

However, the development also entails loss of livelihood for around 2,000 local residents.

These include boatmen, ferryoperators, helmsmen, workers, paan kiosk owners and workers of hotels at both ends of the ghat.

Talking to The Telegraph, Roy said, "There are around 2,000 self-employed persons associated with the Dhola-Sadiya ghat directly and this was the only means of livelihood for them."

Narayan Das, a ferry helmsman, said: "We have been in this occupation for years and it will be tough for us to switch jobs. The development of tourism will keep the means of our livelihood alive. We want the state government to develop employment opportunities."

A state government employee with the Inland Water Transport department, Atul Medhi, said, "I have seen over 1,000 families earning their bread and butter at Dhola-Sadiya ghat for 20 years. I am worried about what will happen to them once the bridge is opened to the public next week."

There are nearly 120 single boats and 14 big boats operating under the Sadiya-Saikhowa ferry service and 30 paan kiosks and small hotels.

The single boats comprise ferries, carrying between 60 and 100 passengers, three light motor vehicles and four motorcycles, besides the majhi boat and dub-dubi (goods-carrying boats). The double-boats ferry buses and trucks across the river.

There has been a demand to rehabilitate the 2,000-plus families associated with the Dhola-Sadiya ghat and the ferry service.

Meanwhile, the inauguration of the bridge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rekindled hopes of development in the hearts of local residents cut-off from the mainland for ages.

"We hope for prosperity and development," said Sukhama Borgohain, an ASHA worker and a resident of Lakhinipathar under Sadiya sub-division. "There have been instances when patients became critical during delivery and had to be referred to better hospitals in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh. However, because of the absence of ferries, the patients had to be operated on locally. This involved many risks to the mother and the child. In one case, a woman died 13 days after delivery."

"No more waiting for sunrise to catch a ferry during emergencies," she added.

"The Dhola-Sadiya bridge has come with a lot of hope for us," Binita Hazarika, a resident of Gumtibill near Sadiya for 37 years, told The Telegraph.

On several occasions, people had got stuck across the river, while returning from Doomdooma, Tinsukia and Dibrugarh.

"The Brahmaputra swells following heavy rainfall, leading to a sudden suspension of ferry services," said Binita.

"There is only one college in Sadiya sub-division. Many people could not send their children for better education across the river, as the time taken to cross the river on a ferry was too long. The last ferry leaves the riverbank around 4.30pm, another reason for worry. The much-awaited bridge is a breather," she added.

The distance between Sadiya and Tinsukia is merely 60km but the time taken to commute is more than six hours, depending upon the availability of the ferry.

The Dhola-Sadiya bridge will not only reduce travel by over four hours but also help to save money.

The opening of the 9.16km bridge, a little over 3km longer than the Bandra-Worli sea link in Mumbai, is likely to fortify the socio-economic conditions of nearly one lakh people settled in Sadiya sub-division and Arunachal's Roing district and its adjacent areas.

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