RINKU IS a student of Class XII at Government Senior Secondary School at Koti village in Morni block of Panchkula district. Every day he crosses Ghaggar river by wading across it. And every day, he says, it reminds of his sister who drowned in the river as she waded through the water to go to school.
“She drowned crossing this river. It still haunts me when I cross it but there is no option here,” Rinku said, a resident of Kyara Khil village. Rinku does not want to talk about the incident, which took place 10 years ago. He only said that she was the eldest of his four sisters. “Now I have three sisters,” is all that he would say.
From well before that tragic incident to date, residents of 59 villages of three gram panchayats in Morni block — Rajji Tikri, Bhoj Kothi and Thandog — have been waiting for a bridge over the river that will help students access the school at Koti and other commuters reach various destinations in Panchkula that lie on the other side of the river, without the hazard of the river crossing.
The school is on a low rise close to the river bank. Villagers who send their children to it from across can see it.
“We keep looking at the skies. The moment it gets cloudy and there are chances of rain, we shout across to the school teachers to send the children back,” Bhoj Kothi sarpanch Khemraj said. He recalls that two years ago, a teacher and students had to spend two nights at the school as the water level in the river rose all of a sudden and they could not cross it to reach back home.
It is half past noon on a recent weekday, and teachers at the school have been asked to suspend the classes midway and wind up. Dark clouds are hovering in the skies overhead warning of rain any moment. Rain will increase the water level in the river, and the children will not be able to cross over to their homes on the other bank. There is no bridge.
The children either wade through the water to reach the school, or undertake the daring stunt of stepping over a narrow water pipe across the river.
Brij Kishore Gautam, who teaches at the school but stays at Pathroti village located across the river, said there have been times when due to a sudden increase in the water, he cannot cross over to the school. As a result, classes are affected.
There are around 263 students in the school. Over 100 students have to cross the river every day to reach the school. About 60 other young men have to cross the river to reach Raipurrani, Bitna, Kalka, Pinjore or Panchkula for work or to study in colleges or pursue vocational courses, Khemraj said.
“There is no other option. Not just me, but every day, everybody arrives with drenched lowers in the classrooms,” teacher Brij Kishore Gautam who teaches the primary classes said. Gautam said that he has tried his best to persuade the government to get a bridge constructed, but in vain.
“I feel ashamed sometimes that I have double Masters and in this era, I can’t do anything for people here. One day, I got late to pick my son Tanmay who comes from Morni school. He thought I couldn’t come and I saw him crossing the river by himself and he fell. I jumped in to save him,” the teacher said. “What is the use of this education, when I can’t fight for this issue?”
Sarpanch Khemraj said the only other route is to cross into Himachal first where there is a bridge at Banalag village near Jamun ki Sher, and from there take Morni road to get to Badhisher, and then reach the school. That is 56 km up and down, which is not possible at all. “For over two years we have been hearing that the bridge will be constructed soon, but we are now tired of asking the officials,” the sarpanch said. In the last two months, classes have been disrupted several times as children have to be sent home for fear that it may rain anytime and they may not be able to cross the river back to go home.
Roop Lal, a villager, said that every day he crosses the river to drop his children, 8-year-old Hussan and 5-year-old Aarti, as he fears they would not be able to do it by themselves. “I hold my daughter and son and make them cross daily so that their classes don’t get affected. But every moment, I fear that in case it rains, my kids will be left behind on the other side,” he said.
Seven students daily come from villages in Himachal, border of which is just two kilometres from here, as this is the nearest senior secondary school. “We start about 6.30 am, walk down about 15 kilometres and then cross this river. Sometimes, after covering this long distance when we reach here, we get to know that the water level in the river has risen and we won’t be able to cross until the level comes down,” said Kushal, a student of Class XI who comes from Thakurdwara village in Himachal Pradesh.
Poonam, a student of Class X from Gram Panchayat Rajji Tikri, said that in case she has to visit Panchkula, she has to cross the river first in order to take the bus. “I feel embarrassed as people stare at my wet salwar. I don’t know why the authorities cannot see the problem that we face every minute,” said Poonam.
But her ordeal is nothing compared to villagers who have to be evacuated in medical emergency. “I remember my wife had a heart problem and villagers took her on a cot holding it up from all the sides with their feet in knee-deep water. We had to make arrangements for her to stay at a home on the other side so that in case of emergency, we may not need to cross the river. There is no first aid available here. The Morni health centre is around 15 kilometres from here which in any case refers you to civil hospital in Sector 6, Panchkula only,” 65-year-old Bhola Nand, a local villager, said.
In the winter, wading into the chilly water is another challenge for children and adults alike. “It is bitterly cold and it is like inviting illness,” villager Ram Krishan said.
Sarpanch Khemraj said that not having a bridge has affected their lives in many ways. “When someone wants to get his house renovated or get some construction carried out, the rates go up by three times when the contractor gets to know that the site is across the river. Material like cement or bricks have to be transported with the help of mules. A brick which is worth Rs 5 is given to us for Rs 15 because the contractor says that it is difficult to transport bricks,” said the sarpanch.
Morni block has a total of 23 gram panchayats. The proposal of the bridge has been pending for the last four years. Villagers were happy when Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced the construction of a bridge two years ago. But the villagers are still waiting.
Executive engineer of the public works department Harpal Singh said that whenever the work on the proposed bridge begins, it will still take two years to complete. He said that the bridge was to come up at a cost of Rs 10 crore. “Around 25 days ago, the tenders were called but because of the high rate offered by the firm, tender allotment committee rejected it and has now ordered that they will be recalled. So we will recall them again,” he said.
On the delay in construction, the executive engineer said, “In fact, some of the area which the bridge has to cover includes private land and the panchayat had to convince the landowner. We had to seek several permissions even from the forest department. Then a survey was carried out as to from where the bridge be constructed and all the technicalities were chalked out.”
The bridge, if becomes a reality, will be of 122 metre length and will be at a height of 40 feet from the river.
Panchkula Deputy Commissioner Mukul Kumar said that the work would begin soon. “I am told that the villagers were suggested that until the bridge comes up, a temporary connectivity using steel can be given but they said that they want a permanent bridge. I have asked the officials and they say that tenders will be recalled and I think it would be done by September 14,” the DC told Chandigarh Newsline.
Many use 20-foot-high water pipeline to cross
A water pipeline which supplies water to these gram panchayats passes over the river. The width of the pipeline is 4 inch which is supported by an iron frame of around 1.5 feet. Risking their lives, people, including children, cross using this pipeline.
“We don’t want to get our lowers and shoes drenched in water so we use these. I usually park my scooter at the river bank, and cross over using the pipeline. For Rakhi, I thought why put my sister to trouble, so I crossed using this pipeline and went to Bitna to get my Rakhi tied,” villager Rajbir said.
Sarpanch Khemraj said that though it was risky, many people used this pipeline to cross. “I know it is risky. But what do we do? There is no option. Either we take the risk of going through the waters or walking on this sleek pipeline,” Khemraj said.