The mighty Brahmaputra river spans a whopping 7 km at Dibrugarh, Upper Assam, India. A writhing pile of fat water and sand snakes that wanders and meanders, protean, amorphous, and willful.  The only way to cross this river is by jumping on a ferry and hoping it makes it across, escaping shoals lurking just under the muddy surface. Jeeps, cars, motorcycles, chickens, goats, people, they all jump on the hourly ferry that runs south bank to north bank. Reaching the ferry dock is not trivial either. The road is a dustbowl, also protean, hostage to the whims of the wandering river.

A bridge across the Brahmaputra would be a boon to all, if executed correctly.

Bogibeel bridge likely to be complete by 2017

says a report in the Times of India, August 9, 2015.

Dibrugarh: The Bogibeel bridge, the longest rail-cum-road bridge of the country that will be built over the Brahmaputra, 17 km from here, is expected to be ready by June 2017.

 

The HCC, which constructed the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai, has a share of 51% in the joint venture worth Rs 987 crore. The VNR has an equity share of 29% and DSD, 20%.

 

“We have already made 10 spans of steel truss. The recent one was launched on July 19. Bogibeel is the first steel-welded bridge of the railways. Thirty-nine spans, each measuring 125m, and two spans of 32.77 m each will be launched,” said HCC project manager Santosh Kumar Misra on Friday.

 

Terming it an ‘engineering marvel’, the official said 70,000 MT of steel, equivalent to 10 Eiffel Towers, would be used in the bridge’s superstructure. The total length of welding to be carried out will be approximately 12,800 km. The structure has been designed by a Denmark-based company.

 

“The work will be over by December 2016. We expect the commissioning of the bridge by June 2017,” he added.

 

The Bogibeel bridge, measuring 4.94 km, will have the distinction of being the longest rail-cum-road bridge once it is commissioned.

The deadline for the project was initially set for April 2009. Since then, it has missed several deadlines and is in its 14th year now. From the original budget of Rs 1,767 crore, the cost has now jumped to Rs 3,230 crore and is likely to touch Rs 5,000 crore.

The bridge, which will be the fourth over the Brahmaputra, will facilitate easy connectivity between eastern Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, benefitting nearly 5 million people.

 

The bridge sure will benefit a lot of people. But this “engineering marvel” has a …

… Sinister subtext

The Bogibeel bridge, Upper Assam

You see, the Bogibeel Bridge is only 4.94 km long where the river spans 7 km. The design is such that the river is pinched at this point with concrete, and the bridge is “protected” by long arcing dykes (see above photo).

Now, when you pinch a flowing body of water like the Brahmaputra, you trifle with an awesome force, and you create mayhem. The effects of this pinch are being felt both upstream (through the afflux of the river above the bridge) and downstream (via rampant erosion from the water forced through the constriction, much like a water gun).

Moreover, the south bank, with its tea estates and oil fields has been fortified against floods. The north bank, home only to rice fields and small farmers, has none of that. Ergo, the river, all swollen from the monsoon and forced through a narrower opening, builds up and breaks the north bank, swallowing chunks of land.

Once it makes its way past the constriction, it rams both banks with force, gulping land once again. Upstream and downstream, people are displaced, rendered homeless and landless. Quick newspaper reports simply mention “devastation due to floods.”

Often times, it is not the river that devastates, but what we do to it, that does.

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The Crack Readers. A story from the north bank of the Brahmaputra: 

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