Ferry service on Hirakud dam queers poll pitch - Suspension of facility at Sonu Tikra ghat triggers resentment among local people

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  • Published 4.04.14

Sambalpur, April 3: Thirty residents of this town perished in a boat tragedy in the Hirakud reservoir nearly two months ago, but the people still discuss the incident, albeit in hushed tones with a government inquiry in full swing.

But, the suspension of the ferry service at Sonu Tikra ghat on the reservoir’s banks at Jamadarpalli, part of this Lok Sabha seat where sitting Congress MP Amar Pradhan is locked in a triangular contest with BJP’s Suresh Pujari and BJD’s Nagendra Pradhan, has triggered severe resentment among local people.

“The service (there were two motor boats) gave us easy access to areas of Jharsuguda district across the reservoir. The road route is much longer and costlier. We will vote for any one, who ensures quick restoration of the service,” said Sani Oram, a daily wager at Jamdarpalli. Oram has relatives whom he visits on the other side frequently. The road route to areas such as Belapahar, an industrial hub in Jharsuguda, which is part of the neighbouring Bargarh seat passes over the reservoir bridge and is around 100-km long.

“The boat ride is shorter and cheaper. Besides, we can also carry our bicycles and motorcycles on the boats. I fail to understand why they suspended it when it was clear that the picnic party that sunk in the reservoir on February 9 had actually paid for its own mistakes. Had they heeded to the advice of the driver and avoided overloading, they would still be alive,” said Ghasiram Pradhan, who also hails from Jamadarpalli.

On February 10, tragedy had struck the picnickers, who were members of the local Lion’s Club, when after a pleasure ride in the reservoir they were returning to Sonu Tikra ghat from where they had taken off that morning. Apparently, they crowded on a single boat against the advice of the driver, who was later arrested in the wake of the mishap.

Though official sources said the service was discontinued as it was running illegally without authorised auction of the ghat by the government, the people are not ready to buy this argument. “If that was the case, then why was it not suspended earlier? Why did it take them so long to discover that it was not authorised?” fumed Mukteswar Oram, who used to avail himself of the service regularly.

Those in desperate need of crossing the reservoir by boat now have to trek another two miles along its bank to Larbhanga, where two motorboats are ferrying passengers to destinations such as Marang, Tiria and Bhusura in Jharsuguda district. These are sturdy wooden vessels powered by outboard engines. These carry 60 to 70 people at a time along with 12 to 15 motorbikes. “It’s perfectly safe and much cheaper,” said Prashant Kumar Mohanty, who owns a mobile phone shop at Gumadera near Belpahar in Jharsuguda district and makes regular business trips to Sambalpur.

People of Jharsuguda need the service much more as the VSS Medical College and Hospital, the biggest health facility in west Odisha, is located in Burla near Sambalpur. “I have to visit VSS for frequent medical check-ups. Many a time even medicines have to be bought from either Sambalpur or Burla. It is imperative that the government restores the service at Sonu Tikra ghat at the earliest,” said Sanjeev Seth of Belpahar.

Major political parties, however, appear to be blissfully unaware of the anger boiling among the people because of the suspension of the ferry service. “I think the problem has arisen because the driver was arrested. I will speak to the collector about it,” said Amar Pradhan, the Congress candidate for the Sambalpur Lok Sabha constituency. Others could not be reached for their responses. But irrespective of what they may think, they should do something about it sooner than later to avoid popular backlash on the issue.