Children from Dashipur village wade through crocodile-infested Kharasrota river to reach Kharianta Project Primary School in Kendrapara. Telegraph picture
Kendrapara, Sept. 16: The fear of crocodiles haunts Pratap Sahu, 40, of Dashipur village. The restlessness of this doting father ends only when his daughter returns home from school.
For Sahu’s daughter Mamata, a Class V student of Kharianta Project Primary, a tryst with crocodiles is always a possibility as she wades through waist-deep river water to reach school.
“Salt water crocodiles from the Bhitarkanika National Park stray into the Kharasrota river. We pray to God for our children’s safety as they have to walk across the river,” said Sahu.
Risking their lives, nearly 100 schoolchildren of the district’s Kharianta village regularly cross the crocodile-infested river.
It has become a perilous ritual for the children, who are forced to step into the river and walk through it as the 2011 flood had swept away the mini-bridge over it. The tiny tots and teenagers encounter double danger — the unsteady river water and the threat of crocodile attack.
“Kharianta Project Primary School has a roll strength of 135 students from Class I to V. Though the school is located at Kharianta village, most of the students enrolled in the school are from the neighbouring Dashipur village on the other side of the Kharasrota river. As a result, the children have to cross the river to attend school,” said a guardian Harekrushna Samal.
“As there is no bridge over the river, it has adversely affected primary education system in the district’s remote pocket. Dashipur does not have a school and the children from the village cannot but embark on a risky journey everyday. Parents prefer safety of their wards and stop them going to school when the tides are high and can’t be crossed,” said civil society group member Pramod Mallick.
“The children trek over an apparent “death trap” as there is every possibility of crocodiles straying into the Kharasrota. It is sheer providence that no mishap has occurred so far,” he said.
“The Kharasrota divides Kharianta village from Dashipur at two points. The panchayat has asked the administration to build a bridge, but nothing has happened. Though a local boatman operates a country boat to ferry the children, his services are irregular and not on time,” said Deymala gram panchayat sarpanch Sunita Samal.
“The lack of bridge has put the schoolchildren to risk. We are concerned about their safety,” said teacher Sridhar Sutar.
Kendrapara collector Niranjan Nayak, however, claims that the administration was sensitive to the crisis. “Measures are being taken to build an all-weather bridge. Till the permanent structure comes up, a temporary bamboo bridge will be installed at the site shortly,” he said.
Till that comes up, Pratap Sahu will have a prayer on his lips every time Mamata leaves for school.