| Villagers build a makeshift bridge over the Kolohi, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Picture by author |
Balasiddhi (Chaygaon), April 16: For the 6,000-odd inhabitants of four interior villages, around 3km to 6km from Chaygaon in Kamrup district, the election boils down to an “elusive” 150-metre bridge.
After umpteen pleas for a pucca (concrete) bridge over the Kolohi, a Brahmaputra tributary, had fallen on deaf ears over decades, a section of residents of number 1 Balasiddhi, Mazpara, Paschimdhuli and number 2 Balasiddhi villages have taken the onus on themselves to build a bridge of bamboo and wood.
The bridge, named Gossai Milan Setu, will link number 1 Balasiddhi and Mazpara with Paschimdhuli and number 2 Balasiddhi.
“We formed a committee in the last week of March and decided to build a bridge to link the villages and more importantly make it easier for residents to travel. Pleas and proposals have gone unheard over the decades. Two years back, there was an assurance of a pucca structure from the local MLA which fizzled out with time,” Prafulla Medhi, secretary of the Gossai Milan Setu Nirman Committee, told this correspondent.
In the absence of a bridge, the villagers have in the past had to hire boats to ferry children and the infirm to schools and hospitals.
“The other alternative is a 7km long detour via Chaygaon to the nearest sub-health centre or schools on either bank,” he said.
While it may seem “a bridge too far” as of now, the villagers are intent on completing the task by voting day.
“We are working on a war footing to complete the bridge before polling day. So far, we have pooled in about Rs 30,000. Some have contributed in kind — trunks of trees, bamboo and wood — from their backyard. The trunks of trees will serve as pillars, the wood its base and the rest made of bamboo,” Medhi said.
Chaygaon, 50km from Guwahati, is under Gauhati Lok Sabha constituency, which votes on April 24.
The Kolohi is now quiet and shallow in portions. But the onslaught of a rising river during the monsoon is still fresh in memory of those living on the fringes.
“The river becomes deep as 15-20 feet near the place where the bridge is being built. I have seen its fury in the past. Every year, it eats away portions of land during the rain,” said 80-year-old Jutila Das of number 2 Balasiddhi, as she cut some betel nuts (tamul) to serve her guests with paan.
Besides, illegal extraction of sand from a section of the river triggers erosion and affects growth of trees on either bank.
“Truckloads of sand are lifted from the river with the help of motor pumps. The trucks have also caused damage to the 3km road stretch that connects number 2 Balasiddhi to Chaygaon,” Medhi said.
About 30 per cent of the inhabitants of the four villages are daily wage earners, while the rest are farmers.
Now, as another election approaches, are villagers willing to make their vote count?
“Yes, we have seen how these leaders have flattered with their promises only to deceive. So, this time we will let our conscience decide. But vote we will, even if we have to travel the extra kilometre or take on more trouble,” said Suresh Das, 75, a resident of number 1 Balasiddhi.