By Prasad Nayak
Malkangiri: The fate of the much awaited and long delayed Gurupriya Setu, touted as the lifeline for the people of 151 villages in what is known as the ‘cut off area’ in the Maoist stronghold of Malkangiri district, continues to be uncertain due to the threat of the Red rebels.
Maoists, however, are only part of the reason there are doubts about the timely completion of the bridge. The onset of monsoon, just a few days away, could prove spoilsport in meeting the deadline of September, 2017 fixed for the completion of the work.
“We are not sure that they will complete the work by the deadline or run away out to fear as they did earlier. For each and everything, we have to cross the river with great difficulty. They should complete the bridge before the arrival of monsoon. Once it rains, the water level will increase and we will have to remain indoors and hungry,” said Mujund Hantal, a local.
“They began the construction work of the bridge many years ago, but frequently halted the work. As a result, the construction is still not completed. Since it is the lifeline for thousands of people, they should complete it soon. Unless it is completed, how will we go out to buy things for our sustenance? We depend on the boats even to take our sick to the hospital,” said Sukri, another resident of the cut off area.
The engineers in charge of the construction of the bridge, however, are confident about finishing the work on schedule. “The deadline for completion of the construction work is September 2017 and we are hopeful about finishing the work within the stipulated time. Since the water level is low now, we are working day and night to complete it ahead of the onset of monsoon,” said Suresh Mishra Junior Engineer (JE).
In the two decades since construction of the 910-metre long bridge over River Gurupriya at an estimated cost of Rs 172 crore, began, work has been repeatedly disrupted by the Maoists, who fear that it would provide easy access to their safe hideouts in the forested ‘cut off area’ for the security forces.
The red rebels have often set afire the makeshift houses constructed for construction workers, along with many vehicles engaged in the work on the bridge, even though a BSF camp is located only four kilometers away from the site.
The tender for the bridge, which will connect Chitrakonda and Papermetla, was initially given to Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC) in 2000, but was later handed over to Gammon India in July, 2006 after work failed to take off. But work could not start as the Maoists resisted it with all their might.
Royal Infra Private Limited, which is executing the work now, has completed around 75% of work. Given that monsoon will arrive in a few days’ time, it is doubtful whether the deadline of September can be met..
Once completed, the bridge will connect around 30,000 people of 151 villages living in the cut off area to the outside world, who at present have no choice but to cross the river on boats for all their needs, often at great risk to their lives..