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Farmer 'bridges' government funds divide

Bamboo bridge built from personal savings after project hangs fire

The bamboo bridge in Murshidabad's Domkal. Picture by Chayan Majumdar

Domkal: A farmer in Murshidabad's Domkal has had a bamboo bridge built across the Jalangi by spending Rs 1.6 lakh from his personal savings.

Ali Kader, 60, decided to step in when nothing was done after four pillars of a bridge were constructed with Rs 20 lakh from former CPM minister Anisur Rahman's local area development funds in 2010.

The bamboo structure Kader has helped build connects 10 villages on both sides of the river.

Kader collects "toll" - Rs 5 for motorbikes, Rs 2 for bicycles, Rs 10 for totos (a three-wheeled battery operated passenger vehicle), and Re 1 for pedestrians.

According to Kader, the collections vary between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 every month. The annual maintenance cost is Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000. Kader and his son collect the toll from a tent at one end of the bridge.

"This unfinished project halted the movements of boats. During low tide, we would manage on foot or cycles. But during high tide, there was no hope. That is why I am happy to see people actively using my bridge. It is true I have no government order. But they haven't asked me to stop either," Kader said.

A 25-metre concrete bridge was proposed in 2009. Then Domkal MLA Rahman, who became panchayat minister in 2010, had provided the funds but it later emerged that more money was required. "At least Rs 1 crore was required for the bridge. But in 2011, we were no longer in power, and the project did not proceed," the CPM leader said.

In the absence of the bridge, villagers had to take an 8km detour and the unfinished bridge became a major local issue.

"The files reflect that there was a corpus of Rs 20 lakh given out from the MLA LAD fund in 2009-10. The files also record that the result was an incomplete bridge at the site. We are aware of Kader's independent efforts, but we see no reason to put a stop to it as it is beneficial to everyone," Domkal block development officer (BDO) T.G. Bhutia said.

However, in March this year, a brawl ensued out when a group of motorcyclists passing through the bridge refused to pay the toll, questioning Kader's authority to charge civilians. The row was resolved when locals persuaded the protesters to see reason.

Farukh Hussain, a schoolteacher who uses the bridge, was full of praise for Kader.

"His project has reduced my daily commute on foot by 8km each way. This is no small amount of labour or time. I am very grateful," Hussain said.

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