Malkangiri: The Gurupriya bridge opened by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in this district has emerged as a beacon of hope for the residents of areas cut off by the Balimela reservoir, a report said Saturday.
The bridge has lifted the people of seven panchayats from isolation and connected them to the outer world.
The enthusiasm displayed by the people for the bridge could be gauged from the fact that thousands had gathered to welcome the Chief Minister despite inclement weather and strong opposition from the Congress and Maoists.
The inauguration of the bridge was a tightrope walk for the government as its construction remained uncertain despite inviting tenders 10 times by various governments since 1978.
Many pregnant women and patients have lost their lives while travelling by the water route. However, the inauguration of the bridge July 26 was a red-letter day for the people.
The Chief Minister renamed the cut-off areas as ‘Swabhiman Anchal’ (a region of self-respect and dignity). The Chief Minister asked people not to have any fear as his government is with them.
He said the bridge will act as a medium to speed up development and asked people not to migrate and announced a package of Rs 100 crore for 42 projects in the region.
A day after the inauguration steps were taken to remove the drinking water problem in the region as machines rolled on the bridge to the other end of the bridge to drill tube wells at the Janbai health centre, Badapada police station and the local school.
Works on 15 tube well projects are over by now. Construction of a 12-km road from the bridge to Paparmetla has begun. However, the heavy rains lashing the district have hit works.
People said they earlier it took them almost two days to reach Chitrakonda and the district headquarters of Malkangiri, but now it takes only two hours.
Everyday various light and heavy vehicles could be seen moving on the bridge to various places in the cut-off areas. The vehicles leave for their destinations after they are checked by jawans on the bridge.
The construction of the bridge has rendered boatmen and vendors on the ghat jobless. However, they said that they are not unhappy as the bridge has freed the people from years of bondage.
This correspondent met some residents and senior officials to enquire about the changes the bridge has brought about in their lives.
SI Bijay Kumar Benia of Paparmetla police station said, “Three buses have started plying from Malkangiri till Jantapai in the Swabhiman region after inauguration of the bridge. Road and house construction materials are regularly being sent via trucks. Moreover, passenger vehicles like auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers have started plying. The bridge has solved the commuting woes of jawans who were earlier facing difficulties in crossing the river from Janbai.”
Narasingh Sindheri, village head, Paparmetla said, “I am lucky for getting an opportunity to shake hands with the Chief Minister.” The Chief Minister asked him not to fear and not to leave for other places as the government is working for their development. He claimed that the residents of 30 villages in the region could benefit if works on the under-construction hanging bridge on Paparmetla River gets completed.
Samal Shah, a trader at Janbai, said, “I have been earning my livelihood by opening a small hotel at Janbai. I have seen the sufferings of people, particularly patients in need of urgent medical attention.”
Ajay Kumar Parida, the Headmaster of Badapada SC and ST Girls’ School said, “The problems I faced in travelling to Chitrakonda and Malkangiri have been resolved. The task of transporting food for students, their treatment, the daily travel by teachers, guardians, students to the school and back has also been resolved.”
Rashmita Tangul, former sarpanch, Badapada panchayat, thanked the government for freeing the residents from 50 years of neglect.
Subhash Hantal, a boat driver at Janbai ghat, said he was working as a boat driver for years, but has stopped the service after inauguration of the bridge.
Danai Hantal, a Class VIII student of Badapada High School, said the bridge has solved the problems of students going to schools. She said she had to spend the night on the verandah of a shop on the ghat when they did not get boats.
Shukra Pujari, a boatman at the Janbai ghat, said he had been rendered jobless after the opening of the bridge and is finding it difficult to maintain his family.