55-yr-old Odisha man mortgages his land to build 100-metre long bridge across river

55-yr-old Odisha man mortgages his land to build 100-metre long bridge across river

Moved by the plight of at least 30,000 people having to negotiate the mighty Indravati river, a tribal boatman has built a 100-metre long bamboo bridge

Moved by the plight of at least 30,000 people having to negotiate the mighty Indravati river, a 55-year-old tribal boatman of Odisha’s Koraput district has built a 100-metre long bamboo bridge over the river after mortgaging his sugarcane plantation.

On November 7, Jaydev Bhatra of Basuli village under Kotpad block of Koraput district, who rows his country boat on Indravati river for a living, completed the bamboo bridge, a task he had undertaken around 3 years ago. The bridge connecting Kantasaraguda village of Nabarangpur district and Basuli village of Koraput district could become a reality only after Bhatra mortgaged 3 acres of his sugarcane plantation for ₹1 lakh.

“I had grown tired of government assurances of construction of a bridge over Indravati. Though I made a livelihood out of making hundreds of people cross the river, it was getting difficult. My country boat had become old and used to wobble a lot when I rowed it across Indravati during heavy monsoon. So I started constructing the bamboo bridge across the river 3 years ago,” said Bhatra. He even invited the local MLA Sasashiv Padhani for the inauguration but the MLA did not turn up.

In the first year, the villagers of Kantasaraguda and Basuli chipped in but the next year everyone forgot all about it. Then Bhatra decided to do it all on his own. Earlier this year, he decided to mortgage his sugarcane plantation to raise ₹1 lakh for the bridge. “It was a difficult decision for me. But there was no other option,” said Bhatra, who, along with his 32-year-old son Banamali, sourced bamboo from the local market. Bhatra even paid wages to the villagers who helped him in the bridge.

Though a little wobbly, the 4-ft wide bridge is able to withstand the weight of motorcyclists. Though Bhatra is not charging any toll for it, he accepts money if users give anything between ₹5 and 10.

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Sonaru Pujari, sarpanch of Gumuda panchayat, said the bamboo bridge would cut down the distance between inhabitants of Kosagumuda block and Kotpad block by over 25 km and help them in getting access to healthcare and education. “Though the villagers have been demanding construction of a bridge over Indravati for more than a decade, Bhatra made it a reality. His sheer commitment is unparalleled. I don’t know if anyone would spare so much time and money to help out people,” said Pujari.

Pujari said the foundation stone for a bridge over the river was laid by chief minister Naveen Patnaik in 2016 at Chirma village of Nabarangpur which was supposed to be completed by 2018. “The deadline for the project estimated at ₹16.30 crore was first extended to 2019 and then February 2021. But in five years, not a single pillar of the bridge could be completed,” said Pujari.

Nabarngpur district collector Kamal Lochan Mishra said he has called for a report from the rural development department about the status of the bridge that was supposed to be completed this year. “The report of a boatman mortgaging his land to build a bamboo bridge is an insult to government,” he said.

In June 2019, a retired livestock inspector of Keonjhar district had come into prominence after he dipped into his retirement savings to build a 270 ft long concrete bridge over river Salandi to connect two villages. Gangadhar Rout of Kanpur village in Hatadihi block of Keonjhar district spent ₹16 lakh from his savings to build the bridge that was completed in August this year. Though the Keonjhar district administration had promised to build approach roads to the bridge, it project remains uncompleted.

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