Silchar: When it comes to floods, one could accuse the Assam government of having a short attention span. As floodwaters hit lower Assam and some districts in upper Assam, it seems last year’s disastrous flood that wreaked havoc in Dima Hasao, Silchar and the rest of Barak Valley has already been relegated to history books.
But the people remember, and for a good reason. And we are not just talking about Assam and Barak Valley here.
You see, National Highway 6 is not just a road; it is a lifeline for Barak Valley, Mizoram and Tripura. For them, there is no ‘life’ without this road, yet, all it takes is a spell of heavy rain in Assam and/or Meghalaya to disrupt all supplies. The precarious nature of this Highway means every time it rains in Assam, Mizoram runs out of fuel. And in the backdrop of last year’s disastrous floods, citizens of Barak Valley submitted a memorandum in June 2022 addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealing for a road from Karimganj district’s Sutarkandi to Guwahati via Bangladesh and Meghalaya.
Interestingly, this letter was preceded and succeeded by floods.
And it is not as if there have been attempts to build ‘alternative’ roads. The East-West corridor, which connects the valley with Guwahati via the Dima Hasao district, is not yet complete and the work has been lying pending for over two decades. Work on that road started during the tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee, but no one knows when that project will be complete.
And before someone mentions trains, just remember that last year alone, train services were suspended in the Dima Hasao district for more than 200 days due to the extensive damage caused by landslides.
Cut to 2023, and it seems that while the year has changed, the conditions have not. Amid heavy rainfall and landslides and mudslides in Meghalaya over the past few days, NH-6 remains disrupted and residents of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura remain on tenterhooks.
This perhaps explains why the demand for starting the Sutarkandi-Guwahati route to ‘solve’ road connectivity issues across the region is once again gaining momentum.
The memorandum submitted to Modi on June 7, 2022, stated that Barak Valley has geographical bottlenecks which disconnect the Valley from the rest of the nation during monsoons. The road from Sutarkandi to Guwahati via Sheola, Sylhet, Jaflong (Bangladesh) and Dawki (Meghalaya) is ready and can be a viable route for residents of Barak Valley to reach Guwahati, the memorandum stated.
It further stated that the Sutarkandi-Guwahati road passes through plains, thereby reducing landslide-related issues unlike the two other landslide-prone roads (NH-6 and East-West corridor). Since the road already exists, the construction costs would also be much lower, the memorandum said. People of Barak Valley, Dima Hasao and the neighbouring states of Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur will benefit if the road is opened, the memorandum stated.
The citizens, who had signed the memorandum to Modi, implored PM Modi to take up the matter with the Bangladesh government so that the alternate route from this valley (Sutarkandi) to Guwahati is opened.
Copies of the memorandum, which was signed by 53 people of various organisations and civil society groups, were also sent to 17 political leaders, including Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterway and former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, Mizoram Chief Minister Z. Zoramthanga and then Chief Minister of Tripura Manik Saha, among others.
Another memorandum was submitted by the Assam State Transport Corporation’s chairman and former BJP MLA Mission Ranjan Das in September 2022 to the prime minister in this regard.
A source said Ravi Nirmal, undersecretary to the Government of India, had sent a letter on September 2, 2022, to the authorities concerned (regarding the memorandum submitted to the prime minister on June 7, 2022) and asked to examine the matter raised by the citizens (via the memorandum to Modi). However, the matter did not progress any further, the source said.
Talking to EastMojo, Radhikaranjan Chakraborty, former principal of Karimganj College and one of the signatories of the memorandum) said it is important the government understands the situation. The Sutarkandi-Guwahati road is the best option to resolve the issue, he claimed.
Saumitra Adhikari, the founder of a Karimganj-based organisation named Ritwiz Cine Art Society, claimed people from Barak Valley would be able to reach Guwahati in under six hours if the Sutarkandi-Guwahati (via Bangladesh and Meghalaya) road is opened.
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“We have come to know from people who know about the road and its geographical aspects that it will take around six hours to reach Guwahati from Sutarkandi, of which around 90 mins will be spent in Bangladesh. The road passes through plain areas and thus there will be no chances of landslides,” Adhikari said.
Former BJP MLA Mission Ranjan Das also agreed that it would be convenient for people to reach Guwahati from Barak Valley if the road is started and hoped that the government would start to work on it soon.
But one can only wonder if the Central government is also taking this issue as seriously as the locals.
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