The long-awaited Gurupriya Bridge in Odisha’s Malkangiri district was inaugurated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday.
The 910-metre bridge, which came after a wait of 46 years, will once again link to the state’s mainland 151 villages that were cut off when the Balimela Hydro Power Project came up in 1972. The villagers, marooned by the dam’s reservoir, had to depend on boats to travel to other parts of the district.
“Sometimes people would want to trade the forest produce collected in the villages,” said Chitrakonda-based livelihood activist Nityananda Pradhan. “But the ferry was the only option. People barter bamboo and tamarind they collect for millet and ragi produced on family farms. Hopefully, the bridge will catalyse actual economic activity because people will farm on a large scale only when there is a market within reach.”
While the area has been a hotbed for marijuana cultivation, encouraged by Maoists, local residents said soil and climate favour turmeric farming.
Many local residents said they value the safety offered by the bridge. Though a government-run motorboat ferries villagers across the river twice a day, people also have to depend on small boats due to rush — with cattle, chickens and motorbikes for company. In 2014, five teenagers died after a boat capsized in the reservoir.
“I have taken harrowing trips across the reservoir in bad weather,” said 20-year-old political science graduate Gopal Biswas. “A medical emergency in the family forced us to cross the water during a storm. After completing BA, I was thinking of moving out of Chitrakonda permanently, but the bridge has reversed that thought. Now, I can reach the rest of Malkangiri without dreading a watery end.”
“The area has witnessed a lot of pregnancy deaths because expectant mothers could not be quickly moved to the mainland,” said a government doctor in Malkangiri, requesting anonymity. “Now ambulances can be rushed across the bridge in time.”
The bridge will also add to the government’s fight against Maoists, who have significant presence in the area for decades. The Maoists, knowing that the bridge will grant forces easy access into their turf, had made at least eight attempts to impede work.
They abducted former district collector R Vineel Krishna in 2011, and killed four BSF personnel in 2012.
During inauguration, the Chief Minister dedicated the bridge to the lives lost protecting the bridge.
Collector Manish Agarwal said the bridge could be completed after heavy security was provided at the site in 2014. “Two BSF camps were set up on either side of the bridge, at Barpadar and Janbayi, to protect the site, the workforce and the machinery,” he said.