Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has requested Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to approve an ambitious project to construct a tunnel under the Brahmaputra to connect the Misa army base in central Assam to Tezpur on the north bank of the river.
Tezpur is the headquarters of the Army’s 4 Corps that oversees Arunachal Pradesh. Tezpur is also the gateway to Tawang on the India-China border.
Sarma told the state assembly on Wednesday that during a recent visit with Rajnath Singh to Arunachal Pradesh, he had requested the latter to approve the proposal to construct the underwater tunnel.
Speaking to Swarajya over the phone from Guwahati, Sarma said that while China has built many roads leading to the border with India across Arunachal Pradesh, India has only one road going up to Tawang.
“Vehicular movement from Misa, a major army base (in Assam’s Nagaon district), to Tezpur on the north bank is solely dependent on the Kaliabhomora bridge over the Brahmaputra. If that gets attacked or damaged in the event of a conflict, it will be extremely difficult to access western Arunachal Pradesh by road. That is why this underwater tunnel had been proposed,” Sarma said.
The 12 to 15 kilometre-long tunnel is expected to cost over Rs 5,000 crore and will be the first road tunnel under a river in the country. A tunnel under the Hooghly connecting Kolkata with Howrah has already been constructed and is expected to be commissioned next year. But it will carry only trains (Metro Rail).
“This is a proposal formulated by the army and I came to know about it sometime ago. It is a vital project that needs to be taken up immediately. That’s why I requested the Defence Minister to expedite the process of granting clearance for constructing the tunnel,” said Sarma.
“I had a discussion with (Chief of Defence Staff) General Bipin Rawat about this proposed tunnel and he also wanted me to request the Defence Minister to expedite the project. He said he is also keen that the tunnel project be accorded priority,” revealed Sarma.
A tunnel under the Brahmaputra, the Assam Chief Minister added, would ensure that the road link with western Arunachal Pradesh remains insulated and uninterrupted even during any outbreak of hostilities with China.
The Border Roads Organisation is widening the two-lane highway (National Highway 13) between Tezpur and Tawang, a distance of 331 km that takes over nine hours. Work on that widening is complete in many stretches and, once over, is expected to reduce travel time to just five hours.
Chinese troops had overrun Tawang and had reached within 20 km of Tezpur before withdrawing during the 1962 war.
The Indian Railways is also constructing a broad gauge line from Bhalukpong (on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, about 58 km from Tezpur) to Tawang.
About 80 per cent of the 378 km of rail tracks between Bhalukpong and Tawang will pass through tunnels, causing minimum damage to the environment. The tracks will pass through the Sela Pass which is 13,700 feet above sea level.
Surveys for the railway line from the Bhalukpong end have already been completed and the sites for the railway stations in Tawang and other places en route are being finalised. Work on this proposed rail link would have started but for the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown.
The Indian Railways is also finalising another project to connect Nagaon with Tezpur and the rail tracks along this route could pass through the proposed tunnel under the Brahmaputra.
Chief Minister Sarma said once the technical feasibility report and the blueprints of the proposed underwater tunnel is ready, the state government would like to build two more road tunnels under the Brahmaputra.
He said that the state government is according the “highest priority” to road infrastructure projects. “We will start construction of a 35 km long elevated road that will cut through the Kaziranga National Park. The existing highway that passes through the National Park disturbs wildlife and the elevated road will cause zero disturbance,” he said.
The decks have also been cleared for another bridge over the Brahmaputra connecting Palasbari and Sualkuchi. This will cost about Rs 4,000 crore. “An elevated road will also be constructed between Lumding and Haflong at a cost of Rs 1,800 crore. We plan to start constructing 1,800 km of rural roads under the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) this financial year,” said Sarma.
“One of the most ambitious projects to be taken up this year is the four-laning of the historic . This 212 km road built around 1687 by the Ahom kings that passes through four districts of Upper Assam is in a bad shape now. Once it is renovated and widened, road communication between Upper and Central Assam will improve significantly,” the Chief Minister said.
Over the next five years, said Sarma, Assam will witness a lot of infrastructure development and a number of roads, bridges and flyovers will come up all over the state.
“All MLAs will be given Rs 100 crore to Rs 300 crore each for constructing roads and bridges in their respective constituencies. By 2026, Assam will be completely transformed and will become a logistics and transport hub in south Asia connecting southeast Asia,” he said.