| The bridge in a shambles at Aatharghat. Devbrat Kumar Sahani (below) on hunger strike near Budhi Gandak. Pictures by Lokesh Bihari |
For four years, a broken bridge has been the lifeline for hundreds of poverty-stricken villagers at Aatharghat, located on the banks of the Budhi Gandak.
Fed-up villagers feel cheated because they were assured of a reinforced concrete cement bridge over the river that would shorten the travel time by an hour and distance by 40km to Patna.
Residents of Aatharghat, largely dominated by fishermen, are demanding a concrete bridge over the Budhi Gandak to mitigate their sufferings during flood. The north Bihar districts remain flooded during June-July every year.
Aatharghat, a thickly populated village falling under Bishunpur Jagdish panchayat in the Bochahan block, is one of those flood-ravaged villages of north Bihar that remain inaccessible during floods. The village is around 16km east of the district headquarters.
Villager Devbrat Kumar Sahani, who is leading the crusade for a bridge, along with other villagers, is on a fast unto death since January 7. Braving the bone-chilling cold along the riverside, Sahani has been seeking a concrete bridge in place of a dilapidated temporary bridge. “In his mission, we villagers ensure that he remains well because it’s chilly out there near the river,” said B.K. Singh, a villager.
The temporary pontoon bridge ran into a rough weather since its installation on November 13, 2009. Chief minister Nitish Kumar had inaugurated the bridge. In 2012, a large part of the bridge collapsed because of the heavy water current of Budhi Gandak.
“Most part of the bridge was washed away, turning the bridge into a truncated overpass,” said Ram Pukar Sahani of Aatharghat.
The purpose of the bridge was to connect Bochahan with the three adjoining blocks — Gaighat, Bandra and Mushahri. “But the purpose has been defeated,” said Saukat Ali of the bordering Sharfuddinpur village.
Located along the old Muzaffarpur-Darbhanga stretch, around 105km northeast of Patna, if a reinforced concrete cement bridge is constructed in Aatharghat, it will cut down a distance of 40km from Darbhanga to Patna en route to it.
Devbrat said in the presence of hundreds of villagers an agreement was signed with district officials led by then sub-divisional officer (east), Rajesh Bharti, on September 18, 2011, for construction of a concrete bridge within two years. “But nothing has been done so far in this regard,” Devbrat said.
The crusader added that he decided to sit on the fast-unto-death to vent anguish over the “false claims” of the district authorities and ensure early construction of the bridge.
When contacted, district magistrate Anupam Kumar said he visited Aatharghat and has seen the condition of the pontoon bridge.
“I have forwarded a detailed project report of the reinforced concrete cement bridge in place of the pontoon bridge for necessary cabinet approval. The road construction department secretary has asked the authorities concerned to sanction funds for the bridge. The villagers should shun the path of agitation and co-operate with the district authorities in making concrete bridge at Aatharghat,” the DM said.