| Labourers construct the bridge over the Simsang in Williamnagar. Telegraph picture |
Tura, Feb. 14: The three-decade-long construction of a bridge on the Simsang river at Williamnagar in Meghalaya’s East Garo Hills district is finally set to be completed.
Construction started in 1984 and has remained incomplete so far. The issue of the bridge has been a major poll plank for political parties for the last 30 years. The bridge will connect Williamnagar to over 55 villages on the other side. The absence of a bridge has posed an obstacle for the government to implement welfare schemes.
The bridge stands as an “eyesore” for residents of Williamnagar located about 78km from Tura. Williamnagar, named after Meghalaya’s first chief minister late Capt. Williamson Sangma, is the only planned town in the state. Last year, there were several protests at Williamnagar after which construction gained momentum.
At present, construction is in the final stages. Social welfare minister Deborah C. Marak, accompanied by East Garo Hills deputy commissioner, inspected the bridge at Warima on February 12.
Marak, who represents Williamnagar, said: “I am happy to learn that the construction of the bridge is in the final stage and is likely to be completed soon. Once the bridge is completed, we can initiate development programmes on a war footing.” She hoped that the bridge would be completed by the end of this year. “We are really trying to ensure that it gets completed this time as we cannot keep the other side underdeveloped.”
Marak said the state government had made up its mind to complete the bridge and roads were being constructed on the other side to ensure connectivity.
“We are looking at tourism in a big way to change the lives of people and the bridge will provide a huge impetus to the dream of turning our region into a full-fledged tourists’ destination,” she added.
Deputy commissioner of East Garo Hills Vijay Mantri said: “We have been constantly monitoring progress of work and are expecting that by the end of this month, iron staging will be complete. Casting will be done in March-April.” He said the bridge is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
The villages on the other side of Simsang are economically backward. There are more than 600 households. Not much education and health facilities are available in more than 55 villages.
Monsoon brings a lot of miseries for the villagers as they fail to sell fruits and vegetables at Williamnagar market. Many have tried to cross the river but drowned. Hundreds of schoolchildren cannot appear for exams at Williamnagar because they find it too risky to cross the bridge during the monsoon.
Officials who did not want to be quoted said that financial constraint is the main factor for the slow progress of construction.
Work order amounting to Rs 1.43 crore, which was earmarked for the construction, had to be revised due to delays. The last revised estimate was put at Rs 6.75 crore. The first work order for the bridge construction was given on March 25, 1986.
Nelson Marak, a villager, said: “We have repeatedly approached our legislator to ensure that the bridge is completed. Every time we got only assurances, but since last year we have been able to see that construction is being done. We are hopeful that finally the bridge will be completed.”
Tyson D. Shira, an activist, said: “During elections, candidates promise that once they are elected, they will ensure completion of the bridge. However, it remained as it is.”