Solar lamps would soon show the path to motorists after dusk on Gandhi Setu, enveloped in darkness at night since it became a free zone on August 10.
Not one of the 100-odd streetlights glows on the 5.575-km-long bridge that connects the state capital with north Bihar.
In a recent meeting convened by the state road construction minister, Nand Kishore Yadav, after The Telegraph enquired him about the corrective measures the government would take to resolve the issue, it was decided that solar energy-powered streetlights would be installed on the bridge.
With the streetlights defunct, the pitch-dark bridge with its numerous diversions is an open invitation to accidents. On an average, over 25,000 vehicles ply over the bridge daily. Residents and people using the bridge said the streetlights went off completely after toll collection at Gandhi Setu was withdrawn on August 10.
“None of the streetlights is working on the bridge for over three months. So it remains dark after sunset. People have to bank on the headlights of their vehicles while driving on the bridge,” said Patna City resident Anil Singh.
According to sources, toll tax is collected on a bridge till the money spent on constructing it is recovered. Gandhi Setu was constructed spending Rs 87 crore. Over Rs 140 crore was collected through toll tax till its collection was stopped in August this year.
D.N. Prasad, chief engineer, National Highways Wing and Project Management Unit, Bihar government, tried to explain the reason for the non-functional streetlights on the Gandhi Setu. He said: “The Centre on August 10 had accepted the state government’s proposal to discontinue the collection of toll from vehicles using the bridge. Earlier, Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam Limited used to collect the toll. The money collected as tax used to go to the Centre, a part of which was used for operating and maintaining the streetlights. Once the toll collection was suspended, there was no money for the maintenance of streetlights. That is why most of the streetlights are defunct since then.”
The lights on the bridge did not go off in a day, though. Sukh Lal, a taxi driver, said the streetlights worked intermittently over the past three years. They went off completely in August this year. Sources said the lights turned dysfunctional around two-and-a-half years ago when power cables around pillar number 44 on the bridge snapped during maintenance work.
A frequent user of the Gandhi Setu for the past 12 years, Lal said: “Several stretches of the bridge are one-way because of the ongoing repair work. Most drivers are scared of accidents while driving on the bridge under such circumstances.”
The cab driver was not too far off the mark. SK Nagar resident Saurabh Kumar had a close shave on the dark bridge last week. Saurabh was riding his motorbike last Tuesday when he averted a major accident on Gandhi Setu. “I was going to Muzaffarpur from Patna via Gandhi Setu. I was travelling at around 70kmph and the bridge was pitch dark. Once I approached the toll plaza on the Hajipur end, I had to slam brakes very hard otherwise I would have rammed into one of the dividers. They were hardly visible in the darkness and I had a narrow escape from what could have been a major accident,” he said.
When The Telegraph approached road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav last week about the corrective steps being taken to resolve the problem, he said: “Gandhi Setu does not come under the ambit of the state government, but we cannot let it remain dark because of the non-functional streetlights. I would talk to the senior officers of my department and arrive at a solution.” Following the query, a meeting was held last Thursday. Secretary, road, Pratyaya Amrit and few other officers attended it.
Prasad, the chief engineer, said: “After deliberating on the alternative steps to ensure that lights function on Gandhi Setu, the department decided to install solar energy-powered streetlights on the bridge under its corporate social responsibility initiatives.”