Barely 300 metres from each other, two teams are hard at work accomplishing a similar task — dismantling pontoon bridges they built across the Yamuna earlier this month for the Art of Living’s World Culture Festival. One is a company of Indian Army engineers, and another a team of civilian contractors who eke out a living building and taking apart temporary bridges.
On Friday, at the military pontoon, the engineers waste little time. The iron beams affixed to each pontoon, which served as a deck for vehicles and pedestrians, are unbolted and maneuvered towards the shore. The remaining cross girders and main girders are unlatched. Another team takes over here. The pontoon is deflated and the equipment is stowed aboard a military truck.
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For this task, the Army has deployed one company comprising at least 100 personnel, who are further divided into sections of 10 men each.
“It takes seven minutes to install one pontoon over the water surface, but the dismantling process is very tedious. But Saturday is our last day,” said one of the engineers. Two companies of the Army had installed two bridges in four days with 65 pontoons in each bridge.
“Material for one bridge was available in Delhi Cantonment but for the other bridge, it was brought from Chandigarh and Pathankot,” said another engineer. Most are glad to leave the Yamuna floodplains, where, through a process of rotation, each man in the company has spent a few nights.
Pointing to the almost black water of the Yamuna below, one of the engineers said, “Look at this water, we cannot even go in. If this was clear water, we can complete a pontoon bridge this size in 12 hours. That’s what we are trained for. But this is horrible. The first few days several men could not eat food.”
Close to 300 metres away, the civilian team is making camp for the night. They will take at least 20 days to dismantle their bridge. They call it ‘Pipa Pul’. The design is different from what the Army builds — pontoons are set up in pairs, then irons beams are put on it. Wooden beams are put on top of the iron ones. It is then covered with a plastic sheet, a layer of mud, and finally an iron sheet.
The ‘Pipa Pul’ is their livelihood. They set up camp for a few weeks, build and dismantle the bridge and set off for the next contract. In a year, they travel across the region.
Dasrath Lal (40) spends six months doing this job and the other six months at home. “Since the end of November, I was employed at Prayag Raj in constructing five floating bridges. We finished it two days before the Makar Sankranti festival. I will go home for Holi for a few days and then again head towards Ujjain. We have to install another bridge before April 22,” said Lal.
Like Lal, others in his group too have expertise in this vocation. They are paid daily wages — between Rs 300 an Rs 400. Hazari Lal has been part of the team for 35 years but is not involved in building the bridge. “I am the cook, helper and odd-jobs man. My teammates need good, nutritious food and I help them. They do good work and with it comes a big appetite,” said Hazari.
This is the last job this month for this team and Holi is around the corner.
“We need to finish this job fast. Holi is the one festival when we all want to go back home. Maybe we will just go home this time and come back and finish the job,” said Hazari.