By Manzar Alam
Founder Editor arunachal24.in and Former Bureau chief ( Northeast ) of ZEE NEWS
This is the story of a bridge that has become one of hope for the people of Arunachal Pradesh. The bridge, being constructed in over the Lohit river on the Alu ghat, is beacon of hope for all those people who wish to go to Dibrugarh or other major towns to seek better medical treatment. It is also the bridge to a better future for all the poor farmers who seek to sell their produce at better prices in the big markets of nearby towns. This bridge also heralds hope for tourists who seek to travel to Arunachal’s Lohit and nearby areas to be in the midst of the region’s mesmerising natural beauty. It is also the symbol of hope of the region’s development in the eyes of the youth. The list is long of all the people from various walks of life for whom this bridge symbolises hope and the story behind the ‘why’ is as interesting as the significance of this bridge in the lives of the locals.
Places near the Lohit river in Arunachal pradesh is home to Hundreds of Thousands of people but the region’s development is disproportionately lacklustre compared to the population. People seeking better treatment have to cross the Lohit river in order to reach nearby towns where such facilities are available. Ferries provide transportation across the river during daytime but there is virtually no way to cross the river after sunset. Waiting for the ferries to start plying the next day can be critical for patients whose condition have worsened after dusk and require immediate medical attention. Unfortunately enough, this is the situation during normal weather conditions, but during excessive rains and stormy weather conditions, ferry services come to a complete halt. Such poor connectivity to has also pushed many of the locals who can’t afford to regularly use the services of the river ferries into further isolation. Many times the ill have lost their lives waiting to catch the next ferry.
Locals have been demanding the construction of a bridge over the Lohit river for decades to ensure better connectivity to the major towns nearby. The government finally took note of their demand and in 2010, initiated the construction of a bridge on the Alu patti .
A company called ‘Navayuga’ based at Hyderabad was offered a contract to construct this bridge. According to the terms agreed upon in the contract, the construction was to be completed by December, 2015. A wave of euphoric relief among the locals erupted when construction of the bridge commenced. People were of the mind that their troubles, against which they have struggled their entire lives will last only a few more years till their ‘Bridge of Hope’ is ready. The many lives lost waiting for the ferry to ply during monsoons, the poor connectivity of their region to major towns and lacklustre development were all going to become a thing of the past in eyes of the locals who were already envisioning their future after construction of this bridge
However, its October 2016 and the ‘bridge of hope’ is nowhere near to commencing operations. Every day, people stand on the river bank optimistically gazing at the bridge hoping that someday it will be ready but there is no one who can assure them of the same.
Locals now wanted answers and their hope and anticipation has morphed into frustration and rage. Realising the predicament of the locals, i decided to talk to a few to understand why the bridge still isn’t ready for use
I have decide to speak with the local MLA Mohesh Chai first. The MLA said that no one understand the problems of the locals as well as they do for it is they who have been waiting for years for this bridge to be completed.
He also says that company officials keep postponing the deadline to a later date as they remain unable to open the bridge for use.
Local MLA says “Company officials promised me to the bridge will be opened for use by January this year and we officially declared this deadline on August, 2015 accordingly but come January, 2016 the bridge wasn’t opened for use. The company officials then promised to open the bridge by April, but April is long gone and the bridge is still not ready for use. Company officials are now talking about opening the bridge in November but it remains to be seen whether the bridge will be opened then or not”.
Meanwhile, District Commissioner for Lohit District Danish Ashraf has accused “The company officials of not taking the construction of this bridge seriously. The construction of this bridge has been progressing at turtle’s pace, and company officials cite various excuses for the delay from floods to something else. No company official ever comes to oversee the construction. The district administration assisted the company whenever company officials requested the same. We even provided security for the construction site but the company still hasn’t been able to complete constructing approach road on both sides of the bridge”.
On the other hand, a Ministry of Road Transport and Highway official Biswajit Dey denies the above allegations. According to Bisawjit, The company is being compelled to declare a deadline due to continuous pressure from the District Commissioner and the local MLA. Biswajit said that the bridge itself is ready but the construction of the culvert and approach road leading up to the bridge hasn’t been completed yet. Apart from that, a technical inspection of the bridge still remains to be done and hence putting all that into perspective, there is no way the bridge could be opened before March, 2017
Biswajit has also accused the district administration of delaying the land requisition process for the construction of the bridge which has caused the whole project to fall behind schedule.
Meanwhile, even the project manager of the company constructing this bridge, Srinivas Rao is refraining from making a clear statement. When asked about the continued delay in opening the bridge, he said that it is the Government’s duty to open the bridge, the company’s job was to construct it. When asked about when the project will be completed, he replied that there is no way the project would be completed by March, 2017.
The company’s indecisive attitude towards the project is even reflected by its website in which there is no update on the project’s status. In fact, there is virtually no details about this project on the company’s website like the date of the project’s initiation, the total cost of the project or the deadline for completion of the project etc.
The locals have also accused the Company’s officials of allowing cargo trucks to pass through the bridge at night even though the bridge is still not officially open for use by the general public. However, project manager Srinivas and team leader Biswajit have denied these allegations and have stated that the truck were company vehicles that have been allowed to use to bridge.
Constant delays in the project has also agitated the local populace to a certain extent and it remains to be seen how this rage will manifest itself.
Meanwhile completion of the ‘bridge of hope’ still appears to be a distant mirage with statements from both government and ‘Navayuga’ company officials acting as evidence for the same.
It must be noted that former CM of Arunachal Pradesh, Kalikho Pul also made an inspection tour at the construction site on 20th May,2016 and declared that company officials in charge of the project will be arrested if construction of the bridge is not completed by September, 2016. However, even such a strong worded statement by the state’s CM seemed to had no impact on the company officials.