Sunday, October 16, 2011

The woes of the bridge...

An image of the iconic bridge from the Sadarghat Immersion
The road bridge over river Barak at Sadarghat is not merely a bridge connecting two destinations for the people of Barak Valley, especially Silchar. For an area, woefully short of architectural landmarks, the Sadarghat bridge is a symbol of Barak Valley’s connection with the rest of the country and probably the entire world.

Therefore, quite inexplicably though, thousands throng to this bridge on Mahalaya every year to welcome Goddess Durga, as if, the Goddess uses this very bridge to visit Silchar during her annual sojourns to earth.  No photo gallery on the internet about Barak Valley is ever complete without a photograph of this iconic bridge and for those thousands who have migrated from the valley and Silchar town in particular, reaching the bridge on the way from the airport invokes that magical ‘I am home’ feeling.

From the utility point of view also, this bridge is of immense importance. Apart from connecting the Kumbhirgram airport with Silchar, this bridge connects many areas of Cachar such as Udharbond, Lakhipur etc with the district headquarters. With frequent economic blockades plaguing National Highway 39, the main connecting link to Manipur, this bridge on National Highway 53 is also responsible for the supply of necessary items to Manipur. Many major tea gardens in Cachar such as Daloo and Kumbha also are connected with the rest of the state through this very bridge. Silchar’s connectivity with Haflong and the under construction East – West corridor also depends on this bridge.

The crack that appeared on October 11, 2011
 - Photo Courtesy: Dainik Jugashankha

However, thanks to years of constant neglect and non maintenance, today this 45 year old bridge is on the verge of collapse. On October 11th this year, a six foot long crack appeared in the slabs of the second pillar of the 472-metre-long bridge, making it unusable for heavy vehicles. Though the PWD National Highway Division, Silchar has started repair work, there is no monitory sanction available for the long term repair of this dilapidated bridge.

Heavy vehicles, including those carrying vital supplies to Manipur and parts of Cachar have been ordered to use the other bridges over Barak in Rani Pheri and Fulertol.  Various associations of the truck operators such as the Barak Valley Truck Owners Association and the Barak Valley Commercial Vehicle Owners Association have already threatened that travelling by alternate routes will increase fuel expenses which will lead to price rise of essential commodities. The tea garden authorities are also worried about the transportation of their products as the other alternative; NH 54 Extension via Haflong is not even in motorable condition.

There is no clarity yet on the issue of long term and permanent repair of the bridge. Apparently, an estimate of Rs. Six Crore Sixty Lakh has been sent to the Ministry of National Highways in New Delhi by Dispur, but there is no decision yet on the sanctioning of this amount.  The estimate was sent way back in mid 2010, but the centre has been sitting on the proposal. This precisely means that the repair work may not be possible during the upcoming dry months of the winter and then once the long Barak Valley monsoon sets in, it may be difficult to carry out any work with the mighty river in spate.

On the other hand, the unscrupulous leaders of the region are busy gaining political mileage out of the issue while the common man continues to suffer. Assam Minister Gautam Roy has recently declared that the rapid renovation of the bridge is one of his priorities. Silchar MP Kabindra Purkayastha has also claimed that he has spoken to the Union Minister for Highways CP Joshi about the issue. Not to left behind, Silchar MLA Susmita Dev has rushed to Joshi in Delhi with a letter from Udharbond MLA and state minister Ajit Singh.

However, no concrete gains are visible yet. While this sudden spurt in efforts to repair the bridge is welcome, where were these public representatives when the bridge was slowly deteriorating to its present miserable state? Had there been a concerted effort to repair the bridge earlier, the current deadlock would not have occurred.

Moreover, even if the centre releases the required amount immediately we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that the Assam PWD, notorious for corruption, red tape and non performance, will carry out the repair work. What portion of the sanction will actually be utilised for the repair work is anybody’s guess unless the public turns vigilant and constantly monitors the work.

Repair work in 2009 - Photo Courtesy: The Sentinel

The bridge has been gradually weakening since 1999 due to technical defects and cracks that have appeared in its concrete slabs, cantilever trips and bearings. In January, another crack had appeared near the Rongpur ascension point but traffic was restored by some short term repairs. The bridge was commissioned in 1966 and the contractors were M/s Gammon India Limited. With adequate maintenance, these bridges are supposed to have a life of about a hundred years but unfortunately the Sadarghat bridge has not even been able to last fifty years. Moreover, long cantilever bridges also require better maintenance and monitoring. Crores have been officially spent in the name of repairs in the last one decade but there has been no perceptible change on the ground.

The Ministry for the development of the North Eastern Region (DONER) also plans to construct another bridge to replace this existing one at a cost of Rs. 60 crores. DONER Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar has said that the construction work of the bridge will start in 2013 if other issues such as land acquisition are sorted out.  However, with the abjectly callous track record of the state government, the timely start and commissioning of the new bridge is extremely unlikely.

Therefore, to sum up, the situation is extremely grim. Now we can only hope that the bridge somehow holds on till some remedial measures are taken. So, the next time, you travel by the Sadarghat bridge, do not forget to seek divine blessings, otherwise you might well find yourself swimming in the lap of the majestic Barak.  


  1. Some thought about the bridge I had seen during its construction stage as young boy visiting my uncles house at Rahman patty:
    It is first bridge of its kind constructed in India. Post tensioned box girder segmental construction, cast in-situ with CLC gantry. Perhaps longest span Concrete bridge of that time (1966);
    1. Apparently there is no inspection of the bridge from time to time. Regular inspection is a good engineering practice, after all man made systems deteriorates with time.
    2. Even if there was any inspection, sign of distresses had been ignored for long time to allow it to come to a precarious situation as now visible.
    3. The central hinge problem had been noticed in many such bridges. Reahabilitation possibly can be done.
    4. But the spalling of concrete and virtual dismantling of the slab could have been easily avoided by timely action,diagnosis and rectification. I visited my home town Silchar recently, during my visit for about a week to the Barak valley, but did not have time to have a look at it.
    A distress appearing after 35-45 years cannot be structural, it has its root to durability and chemical attack or fatigue. The fatigue also looks to me unusual as fatigue cracks appears at location where reversal of stress is maximum. Durability related causes seems to be reasons for distress.
    The photograph exhibit no signs of rebar corrosion. Thus other possiblities are Alkali aggregate reaction, Sufate attack etc. With no surce sulfate attack may not be there, but one has to investigate.
    So what is needed is a thorough and quick investigation to daignose the problem and suggest a repair scheme

    Bishwajit Bhattacharjee (Bappa, also nick named SILCHU at IIT Kgp)

  2. @ Bishwajit: Thanks a lot for your perspective. Poor maintenance and lack of supervision has led to this disaster.......


Silchar through the Lense