A bridge remains too far

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By Raja Mohanty

“I remember crossing the mighty Brahmani on a ferry along with my Royal Enfield. And this was one of its kind for me. Then this bridge was under construction. That was I think last part of 1959,” said Kulamoni Moanty, 86, a retired executive from Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP). The bridge was constructed in 1961.

Between 1961 and 2017, much water have flown down the bridge and much traffic have crossed over the bridge. Today the bridge undergoes frequent repairs work, done on the pier and the girder, to keep it operational snarling traffic for hours together. The locals feel this someday, in near future, it may crumble under the pressure of the service it has provided.
Today given its receding state of health, the demand for the second bridge has become shriller and shriller and has gained momentum over a period of one and half decade.

Unfortunately, the fate of the bridge remains hanging between the slugfest of BJD and BJP. Before becoming PM, in 2014 and after that again in 2015 Narendra Modi, in public meeting had promised that the bridge would be completed in time, though no time frame was mentioned. This has given ammunition to the BJD cadres to torment BJP supporters.

In private the BJP cadres, who put up a brave face in public, say, “his is going to be a big embarrassment for the party because the PM himself promised the bridge to Rourkela. This is part of a larger project and nobody understands that because Modiji made the promise himself. We are really in soup.”

The Brahmani river bridge, regarded as one of the main lifelines of Rourkela, is part of the 126 kilometres Barkot-Biramitrpur NH 143. This road is vital for the mining industry of the district and also offers an easy and short reach to Bhubaneswar. This road is being widened in three phases, Biramitrapur-Rourkela, 30 km, Rourkela-Rajamunda, 46 and Rajamunda-Barkot, 50 km.

The total project cost is Rs. 2500 thousand, which include the all-important six lane second Brahmani Bridge. This six lane bridge will come up near Balughat, some one kilometre away from the old bridge. However, the whole road will be four lanes. Earlier it was finalised to start the project sometimes in 2013 and the work was awarded to Gammon India at a cost of Rs. 1250 crores, however, it was shelved as state government could not acquire the required land.

This time the acquisition in majority portion is over and compensation paid. The only contentious area remains near the bridge site at Dandiapalli. The NHAI has opened one project office at Koelnagar, Rourkela and appointed a new PD, who took the charges few months back. On 21st of June, 2017 Gadkari laid the foundation stone for this project.

With this background, all parties, BJD, BJP and Congress all try to take credit of it and put the blame on the other. Then then PCC chief Prashad Harichandn, criticising the whole delay had said, “no one should claim credit for this it was during UPA regime everything was finalised. This is unfortunate that the state suffers for total apathy of the state and central governments and nothing else. I raise the question why land acquisition could not completed when our government at centre had finalised everything.”

On May 22nd, 2017, the first embarrassment for BJP came as political heavyweight and party MLA and former minister during AB Vajpayee government Dilip Ray dropped a big bomb shell. Criticising the centre on the inordinate delay he said, “since Modiji made the promise about the bridge people were optimistic about it here. But after three years there is no sign of it and I feel ashamed of it.

To arrest further damages it was on June 21, 2017 Nitin Gadkari, with much fanfare laid the foundation stone for the second bridge and the entire project. It was a big moment for all and in the meeting Gadkari had announced, “the project will begin in 15 days’ time.” And with monsoon round the corner the work never started. Then one of the state secretaries of BJP Dhiren Senapaty and local leader, soon came in support of Gadkari and in July said, “everything is ready and it is because of the rain, site mobilisation and other works are getting delayed. It is none other than minister has promised and no one should be in an iota of doubt. The work will begin after the monsoon.”

And then nothing seemed to be moving in favour of the bridge. Soon in November Ray again shot another round of salvo at the centre for its negligence as he said, “I may think of doing something drastic and this is a big insult for all here and I am with my people and their problems.”

Then came a ‘big eye wash’ as a JCB started making roads near the Balughat site and everybody ridiculed it. BJD heavyweight Ananda Mohanty said, “this is nothing but hoodwinking all. They want to start the work with a JCB machine, I must say this is a big joke.” And on 5th of December, 2017 CM Naveen Pattnaik, who was quiet till now fired the centre as he said, “the State Government will take up construction of the second bridge on river Brahmani near Panposh of Sundargarh district out of its own resources if the Centre failed to do so. If the Centre is not serious, the State Government will construct the bridge out of its own resources,”

Not be left behind criticising Naveen for politicising the issue, Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram said, “funds have already been allotted for the project and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has already issued tenders.” Furthering his attack Oram, charged Naveen, “on the other hand, I want to know when the state government will complete land acquisition for the project.”

The NHAI mandate categorically says, ‘work can only begin after 90% lands are acuried and in case of the bridge NHAI has not received the clearance on the bridge land.” This was said then CGM NHAI at Bhubaneswar Dharmananda Sarangi.

The project was awarded to GKC Project Limited of Hyderbad was awarded the Rs. 381 crore bridge work first pending development of the NH 143. It brought in its staff and started a soil testing, however, this did not satisfy the general mood. And Ray quickly reacted on it, “the land needs to be acquired and they have started the bridge work. This is ridiculous.” He, meanwhile invited sharp criticism from his party as it said, “he was crossing the limits.” However, Ray said, “ mati age party pare” (first my land then party).

Meanwhile, sometimes back local BJD heavyweight and former MLA and minister Sarada Nayak criticising Ray, said, “what took him so long to react and feel sorry and humiliated about the delay when already four and half years have passed in between. This is absolutely eye wash and nothing else.”

Meanwhile, the local administration has advertised about acquiring lands on Dandiapalli, where the bridge will land. “We have learn about it from the paper and have no objection about giving our land in exchange of right compensation for a project which is good for all. But, let the administration come to us, they just cannot take away the land form us by force,” said a person who did not want to be named and is going to lose lands. It is going to acquire some 700 meters of land.

Answering to a question, the new CGM of NHAI at Bhubaneswar RP Panda said, “as you know the NHAI mandate says we need 90% land before beginning a project. The whole thing remains with land acquisition by the state government. We are waiting for that. I have heard the district administration there have begun the process of land acquisition there.” Besides, he also added, “we have started our piling work for soil testing on the Balughat side of the bridge. We are progressing with schedule and are waiting to start the next testing once the land acquisition on the Dandiapalli side.”