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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

With no government help, Odisha villagers bridge troubled waters on their own

Last week, its residents bridged the divide themselves — with several stacks of timber, Rs 10,000 and their own labour.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Bhubaneswar |
August 3, 2021 8:51:20 am
The makeshift bridge over the Badanala, one of two streams separating residents from the outside world, will now save them an 8-km hike through a forest.

Kuturakend village in Odisha’s Balangir district is just 12 km away from the nearest town, but for years that distance has felt much longer. A water channel — that remained unbridged despite a decade’s worth of pleas to government officials — had almost cut off the hamlet of 60 households.

Last week, its residents bridged the divide themselves — with several stacks of timber, Rs 10,000 and their own labour.

The makeshift bridge over the Badanala, one of two streams separating residents from the outside world, will now save them an 8-km hike through a forest and the stream just to access basic amenities.

Villagers working n makeshift bridge to reduce the risk and travel time. (Screengrab)

“For all of us in Kuturakend, we have to cross Badanala on a daily basis for some or the other reason. All basic facilities including the markets, government offices, upper primary and secondary schools and even colleges and healthcare institutions are all located in Titlagarh town on the other side. School students as young as eleven would also walk through the water with their cycles to attend school. It was especially challenging to carry patients or pregnant women to hospitals or healthcare institutes,” said a resident, Koushik Bhoi.

What made the crossing even more perilous was the release of water from a nearby dam during the Monsoon. The Dumerbahal dam, constructed in 1983, is just 3 km away — its released waters swell the Badanala to a width of 100 metres and a depth of up to 6 feet in August-December. “The water level starts to rise during the monsoon and continues until December. Commuting through the water is very difficult and also risky. For over a decade we have written letters to district and state administrations and even to politicians and ministers but no initiative was taken. So this year we decided to build a makeshift bridge ourselves,” said Bhoi, 25.

Bhoi was among nearly 50 villagers who pooled a total of Rs 10,000 and came forward to build the timber bridge. The construction began on July 18 and was completed by July 27.

Kuturakend has not had a bridge in recent memory. But a tragedy in 2011 shook its residents. “My wife was in labour and it was peak Monsoon. We called an ambulance, but because of the water, it could not reach our village. With the help of a few other villagers, I carried my wife on a cot and waded through the water to reach the other end. As soon as we crossed the creek, she delivered our baby, but he was stillborn. Before we could take her to the hospital, she breathed her last too,” said Benudhar Bhoi, another resident.

“It was after this incident that we started pressing for a bridge but to no avail. Though the distance to be covered is small, the high water level poses a threat, especially for small children who go to school,” he added.

Sight of the makeshift bridge built by the villagers of Kuturakend.

Now, the news of the village residents taking matters into their own hands seems to have stirred some authorities.

Asit Kumar Tripathy, the former Odisha Chief Secretary and Chairperson of the Western Odisha Development Council promised to get a permanent bridge constructed at the earliest during a recent visit to Balangir. “We received information regarding the bridge made by community contribution. We have directed the department concerned to sanction and construct a permanent bridge for better communication for the people,” Tripathy said.

On Saturday, Tukuni Sahu, the state Women and Child Development Minister and Titlagarh MLA, visited the village along with a block-level engineer. “Directions have been given, work will soon begin for the construction of a concrete bridge,” Sahu said. The Titlagarh collector, too, visited the village Saturday.

And after the endless years of waiting, Kuturakend residents now have some reason for optimism — they are finally being heard.

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