When on February 5, 2016, PM Narendra Modi was addressing an election campaign rally at Moran in Dibrugarh district of Upper Assam, he had come down heavily on the then incumbent Congress government under the leadership of former CM Tarun Gogoi. Modi reminded the people of the injustices done to them by the previous Congress governments at both the Centre and the state, especially their utter failure in executing several long-pending infrastructure and development projects. These were some of the stark failures that the electorate in Assam could easily relate to when the PM himself referred to them in his speech.
PM Modi recounted to the people of how his government had inaugurated at Lepetkata, Dibrugarh, the Rs. 10,000 crore Assam Gas Cracker Project – the first-ever petrochemical project in Assam and also Northeast India’s biggest industrial project – after 25 years of its conceptualisation by the Congress government at the Centre and in the state. Implemented by the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Limited (BCPL), the Gas Cracker Project was conceived in the year 1985 as a part of the historic Assam Accord, which was signed between the leaders of the anti-foreigners’ movement and the Government of India under PM Rajiv Gandhi. The foundation stone for the Project was laid for the second time by former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh in April, 2007. The previous occasion was in 1994 when then PM P.V. Narasimha Rao too, did the similar honours at Tengakhat in Dibrugarh district, although the venue was later abandoned because of numerous bureaucratic hurdles.
At the election rally in Moran, PM Modi had reiterated how the leaders of the Congress Party had purposefully kept the Gas Cracker Plant bereft of action, thereby nurturing it as a potential vote-bank over the past five elections. By invoking a reference to such blatant instances of historical negligence, PM Modi helped establish the fact that the Congress Party had neither valued people’s aspirations nor respected the public opinion, and had always kept itself mired in petty dynasty politics of power grabbing. Compared to the Congress, he established the image of his government and the BJP as an action-oriented group of leaders who in just two-and-a-half years of coming to power had settled the matter swiftly and formally inaugurated the plant.
It is indeed true that several such developmental initiatives which had long been pending in the region, came to be fast-tracked only after the coming to power of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre under PM Modi in 2014. E.g. for the first time in the history of Independent India, the southernmost part of Assam, i.e. the Barak Valley, comprising of three districts – Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi, and with a population double the size of Goa – was connected with a railway link directly to Delhi on November 21, 2015. After a nearly two-decade long negotiation with the central and state governments, it was for the first time that the Modi government had opened up the broad-gauge Silchar-Lumding railway line which benefitted not just Assam but also Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram.
On December 25, 2018, which also happens to be the birth anniversary of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, PM Narendra Modi had inaugurated the Bogibeel Bridge that was also proposed as a part of the Assam Accord in 1985. It connects the south bank of the river Brahmaputra from Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district to Silapathar in Dhemaji district bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The 4.9km-long bridge across the mighty Brahmaputra happens to be the second longest rail-cum-road bridge in entire Asia, besides being seen as an attempt by the Indian government to shore up its defence logistics along the Sino-Indian border. It may be mentioned here that due to inordinate delays in its implementation for over 30 years, the overall cost of the project had escalated by almost 85% from the sanctioned estimated cost of Rs. 3,230.02 crore.
These have been some of the important political moves on the part of the BJP that stood in sharp contrast to the Congress’s colossal failure in finishing several of its inaugurated projects in Assam. It has also helped showcase the BJP’s willingness and commitment in dealing with the development needs of the state, by rapidly re-launching and completing some of these long-pending projects.
Coming to the present, on August 24, 2020, Finance Minister of Assam Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma inaugurated India’s longest ropeway over the river Brahmaputra, which will connect Guwahati to North Guwahati. The administrative sanction for the 1.82-km long ropeway, which will operate from Kachari Ghat in Panbazar to the Dol Govinda Temple in North Guwahati, was issued way back in 2006 during Himanta Biswa Sarma’s tenure as the Minister of Guwahati Development Department (GDD), and was scheduled to be commissioned by May, 2011. But, it had hit a roadblock after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) refused permission for tilt rectification of a trestle (T2) constructed by another firm.
One of the most politically savvy and illustrious leaders of Assam, in fact of the entire North-East, Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that from 2011 onwards, projects related to his home constituency of Jalukbari started getting blocked from higher-ups in the Congress Party for no substantial reason. As such, the ropeway project, for which he had held several discussions with the then Kamrup (Metro) District Administration in 2003, had also reached a stage of virtual abandonment. Work was resumed again only after 2016 when he had again been offered the portfolio of the Minister of GDD.
Built at a cost of Rs. 56 crore, the much-awaited ropeway is a twin-track, single-haul, bi-cable double reversible jig-back system with two cabins – each with a capacity of 30 passengers plus one operator. Overlooking the extremely wide and huge body of water that the Brahmaputra is, the ropeway has met a long-standing need of the citizens of North Guwahati. They suffer a lot during the annual monsoon floods in the state when all ferry and boat services remain suspended on the Brahmaputra. Travel by road to reach Guwahati city not only consumes a lot of time, but also pinches upon one’s pocket.
It has been built with state-of-the-art technology and will drastically reduce the travel time for passengers to cross the river, from the usual 40-45 minutes to a mere 8 minutes. Passengers can also have a glimpse of the beautiful Umananda temple of Lord Shiva situated on a small river island, besides numerous other religious and archaeological sites at North Guwahati, thereby giving a boost to the state’s tourism sector as well. However, a lot still depends upon the political willingness of the government in utilising the ropeway project as an ideal product for promoting adventure tourism in the state.
Undoubtedly, the breathtaking view and natural beauty of the Brahmaputra and the landscape of the city of Guwahati from the ropeway during the 8-minute long ride is definitely bound to lure tourists in good numbers. From the ecological point of view, ropeways as a means of travel and communication have the lowest carbon emissions among all urban transit options. They also do not require the mass-scale destruction of trees and forests unlike other modes of travel such as the railways. Ropeways offer our policymakers the ideal option for a modern urban transport solution. In fact, ropeways can prove to be one of the most viable and feasible modes of mass connectivity especially in a region like the North-East which is dominated by hilly and densely forested terrains. It can be a much-reliable, alternative option for main transit system in cities like Guwahati that lack metro rail services.
As a matter of fact, the NITI Aayog had also recently acknowledged and endorsed the utility of having more and more ropeway projects in the country, while placing a draft Model Concession Agreement for PPP frameworks with the purpose of implementing such projects in the near future, keeping in mind their environment-friendly nature. This is especially important in today’s context when the planet still continues to grapple hard with issues such as an ever-increasing population growth rate, diverse geographies and the need to cut down the daily carbon footprint.
Countries like the US, France, China and Vietnam have extensively used and promoted ropeways as a smart urban transport solution and also as a tourism booster, without disrupting the natural ecological balance. E.g. a double-decker cable car called the Vanoise Express, links France’s La Plagne with Les Arcs ski resorts in the Alps, transporting 200 people per cabin across a naturally beautiful and romantic view.
North-East India too, is full of such unknown and less travelled, yet undeniably beautiful tourist destinations. The governments here can emulate such feats by effectively connecting places of tourist interest via ropeways and cable cars. This will not only help showcase the region’s untapped potential before a global audience, but also has the ability to provide a source of mass livelihood to many associated with several activities linked with the tourism sector.
- Guwahati Ropeway. The Assam Tribune. August 25, 2020.
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