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BRIDGES OF MOTIBHROM COUNTY: See ’em, don’t use ’em
All dressed up but no land

The bridge towers over the Jalangi river but goes nowhere in the absence of approach roads. Pictures by Chayan Majumdar and Sanjib Chaki
Schoolgirls are forced to use the low wooden bridge even though the sturdier replacement (right) is in place

Calcutta, Aug. 10: Amit Mitra must be cut up with Ratan Tata for not driving down Bengal’s real “countryside” — the polite word the industrialist had used to describe parts of Rajarhat.

Had Tata done so, Mitra would have found more evidence to back up his well-documented diagnosis of the state of the mind of the visitor from Mumbai.

Tata would then have probably spoken — or tweeted —about bridge after bridge standing proud and preening but going nowhere.

Not one but 22 bridges are in various stages of truncated existence. At least eight of them are complete but neither can the chief minister inaugurate them nor can anybody use them.

What else other than such delusional tales will Mitra need to doubt the senility of those claiming such sightseeing opportunities in Bengal?

But before Mitra slips into the psychiatrist’s overcoat and cures his patient of “motibhrom (loss of mind), hear out Najrul Islam.

“I see the bridge but can’t use it,” said Najrul, a teacher in a Murshidabad madarsa. “So I risk my life every day and cross the Jalangi river in an overcrowded boat.”

The bridge connects Karimpur in Nadia and Bakshihat in Murshidabad. But the teacher and his fellow commuters have to cross the river by boat because the Mamata Banerjee government has not thrown the bridge open to the public. Reason: the approach roads on either side have not been built yet.

In fact, there has been no attempt to acquire the land required to lay the roads.

For Najrul, prayer is his bridge across the river.

Heart in mouth, the silent supplication starts the moment the overcrowded boat jerks away from the bank and wobbles into the deeper waters of the Jalangi for the 35-minute ride.

It’s an everyday ritual for Najrul, who teaches in Murshidabad’s Kamordiha High Madarsa, across the river from his Senpara home in Nadia. Every day the schoolteacher gets a full view of the bridge that was built around two years ago at a cost of over Rs 8.5 crore.

The bridge to thin air is a legacy of Singur and Nandigram as an increasingly shaky Left, still in power when the bridge was started over 10 years ago, shied off acquiring the land needed to build the approach roads.

The Trinamul government, which succeeded the Left in 2011, stuck to its election manifesto that promised a hands-off policy on land. As a result, the bridge over the Jalangi, along with seven others built over the past couple of years, has not been thrown open for public use yet.

A recent report prepared by the public works department (PWD) has identified these bridges. The report also said there had been no progress in acquiring land to lay approach roads to at least 14 other bridges that are 70-90 per cent complete.

“Twenty-two bridges spread across the districts are either complete or nearing completion. But because of non-availability of land, work on the approach roads couldn’t be started,” said a PWD engineer.

Engineers said most of these bridges were planned between 2009-10 and 2012-13. By 2009-10, the then Left government had already been singed by the anti-acquisition protests that started in Singur in 2006 and culminated in Nandigram in March 2007. By 2012-13, Trinamul had wrested power.

“Usually tenders for a bridge and the approach roads are floated simultaneously. While work on the bridge starts immediately, the contractor appointed for the approach roads waits for the land. By the time the bridge is completed, land is handed over for the approach roads,” said an engineer. But in the case of these bridges, the land couldn’t be acquired.

Not only bridges, infrastructure projects like developing and widening roads have also hit a hurdle because of the government’s hands-off policy.

A senior government official said if bridges lay unused, they could get damaged within a few years. “If a bridge is in use, regular maintenance is carried out. Once the structure is left abandoned for a few years, adverse weather will start taking a toll. If that happens, crores of rupees spent on the structures will go waste,” he said.

Finance department officials are worried because of another reason. Many of these bridges were started with central funds and, unless they are completed, utilisation certificates can’t be submitted.

“If utilisation certificates are not submitted, the state might face trouble in getting fresh allotments under the infrastructure head,” said an official.

Senior PWD engineers said around Rs 450 crore had been spent on the bridges.

“But the purpose has not been servedů. Every day, more than 15,000 people cross the Jalangi by boat. We have been told that land for the approach roads couldn’t be acquired,” said Rakibul Islam, a retired schoolteacher in Bakshihat, Murshidabad. “I don’t know what prevented the government from acquiring the land.”

In Barajibanpur, West Midnapore, a farmer rued how he was losing out because the bridge over the Kapaleswari, one of the eight completed ones, has not been thrown open yet for lack of approach roads. “I am forced to sell my produce at a much cheaper rate to local traders,” he said.

Murshidabad

  • Bridge: Over the Jalangi river
  • Money spent: Rs 8.5 crore
  • Status: Completed two years ago but unused
  • Why: Approach roads on both sides cannot be completed because of land acquisition problems
  • Impact: 15,000 people cross the river every day in overcrowded boats

North 24-Parganas

  • Bridge: Over Bidyadhari canal
  • Money spent: Rs 2.48 crore
  • Status: Completed but unused
  • Why: Approach road on one side cannot be completed because of failure to acquire land
  • Impact: A rickety wooden bridge that the new one was supposed to replace is still being used

MISSING LINK

The eight completed bridges that cannot be used for lack of approach roads

North 24-Parganas
Bridge over Bidyadhari Khal (canal) to replace the Kachua Bailey bridge

North 24-Parganas
Bridge over Bidyadhari Khal to replace the Mena Bailey bridge

Murshidabad
Bakshipurghat bridge over the Jalangi river

Burdwan
Bridge over the Khari river

Burdwan
Bridge to replace a damaged culvert

West Midnapore
Bridge over the Kapaleswari river in Barajibanpur

East Midnapore
Bridge over Prapdighi channel

East Midnapore
Bridge over the Cossey river