R Dutta Choudhury
GUWAHATI, Jan 17 - Though Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, after his meeting with the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh in New Delhi yesterday, had announced that the Assam-Bangladesh border would be sealed by the end of this year, it seems very unlikely as the Government of India itself had admitted that it would take some time to seal the riverine international border using “technological solutions”, which can be started only after studying the success of such a pilot project being implemented in Jammu.
Over the years, the Central and State Governments have been announcing deadlines for the sealing of the international border and the slow progress of the work forced even the Supreme Court to express its displeasure. The Supreme Court has also directed the Centre to submit an action taken report on sealing of the international border on February 20.
Last year, the Border Management wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs submitted a status report on sealing of the international border with Bangladesh in the Supreme Court, which clearly indicated that sealing of the riverine international border would not be completed by the end of this year, contrary to the claim made by the Chief Minister after his meeting with the Union Home Minister.
The report admitted that 48.11 km of riverine stretch of the international border in Assam could not be plugged by physical barriers. A committee was set up to study the problem and to suggest measures and members of the committee visited the border areas and examined the feasibility of covering the riverine stretch through physical and non physical barriers. The committee pointed out that around 17.47 km of the stretch, particularly the char land, can be plugged with fencing. But the fencing would have to be modular in nature and the bottom row would have to be removed before the onset of monsoon every year. The committee also suggested extensive use of modern technology to seal the riverine border.
The report said that though it might be possible to construct BOPs, sentry posts, flood lights, etc., on the Brahmaputra river, it would require comprehensive hydrological data including high flood level, discharge of the river, velocity of the water flow, data relating to change in pattern of the river, etc., to ensure that any structure constructed can withstand the onslaught of the river during floods. Only after proper study of the data, it will be possible to design the foundations. The report further said that for construction of physical infrastructure, a detailed project report would have to be prepared based on proper hydrological data and around 12 to 15 months would be required for starting the work for preparing the DPR. Considering the geological features of the Brahmaputra river, it would take considerable time to prepare the DPR. Moreover, construction of physical obstacles on the Brahmaputra would require considerable time and cost, while, such obstacles may not sustain for a long period.
The report said that considering the problems of construction of physical barriers, the Government decided to plug the riverine international border with “technological solutions”. A pilot project was initiated in Jammu for testing various technologies available globally for border security and surveillance, which include laying of optical fibre cable, radars, underground and underwater sensors, cameras etc. After the pilot study, the technological solutions can be used in other riverine areas along India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh borders. However, after studying the success of the pilot project, it would require at least 22 months in completing the formalities like finalizing the qualitative requirements, floating of tenders, testing the equipment, etc., to start implementation of the project in other areas. The report also admitted that the timeline indicated was in the best case scenario.
From the report it is evident that the international border with Bangladesh will not be completely sealed by the end of this year despite the claims made by the Government.
Meanwhile, All Assam Students Union (AASU) chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said that over the years, the people of Assam heard only promises from the Government and “we will be assured only when we see the implementation of the promises on the ground.” He said that a team of the AASU visited the international borders with the Chief Minister to assess the condition on the ground and the Chief Minister himself saw that the riverine border is still open. The Central and State Governments are compromising with the security of the nation by not sealing the international border, he alleged.