Odisha: After 46 Yrs Of Isolation, 151 Villages Of Malkangiri District To Be Connected To Mainland By Gurupriya Bridge
The year was 1972 when 151 villages in Odisha’s Malkangiri district were cut off from the mainland due to the Balimela hydropower project. Gradually, these 151 villages which were marooned by the dam’s reservoir in the Chitrakonda forest area, drifted away from the political mainstream and slipped into the ambit of Left Wing extremism. Even though the Odisha government had planned to construct a hanging-bridge in 1982 at the cost of Rs. 7 crore, the project never took off, owing to a number of reasons.
Odisha CM Inaugurates Gurupriya Bridge
Finally, after over three decades of conceptualising, the long-awaited Gurupriya bridge was inaugurated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Gurupriya bridge, Patnaik said, “It is a testimony to our commitment to integrate all parts of Odisha to the mainland and thereby to prosperity. It is our dream come true, and Gurupriya is truly a bridge of progress.”
Reportedly, the bridge, constructed at the cost of over Rs 187 crore by Kolkata-based Royal Infraconstru Ltd is 910 meters long. In 2014, the construction work of the bridge began with two platoons of Border Security Force (BSF) who were guarding the construction site round the clock. The BSF had also set up special camps in the region to facilitate the work.
Additionally, he also paid homage to all those who were martyred while the bridge was under construction and also urged the Left-wing extremists to give up on violence and embrace peace, prosperity and progress that the bridge brings with itself.
Development Package for the villagers
To fast-track the process of development in the Chitrakonda region, which for 46 years was engulfed by abject poverty and Maoist insurgencies, a special package of Rs 100 crores was announced. With new health-sub centres, road and bridge construction project, the Odisha government plans to bring the people of the region to the forefront by shifting the focus on their livelihood.
Till the bridge was constructed, the only means of connectivity for the villagers were government-run motorboats and other small boats which ferried villagers to and fro. This incidentally resulted in accidents as well. A boat ferrying teenagers capsized on the reservoir in 2014. According to a government doctor quoted in The Indian Express, the area has seen a number of pregnancy-related deaths as expecting mothers were not able to reach a healthcare facility in time.
The bridge will also be crucial in catalysing actual economic activities between the people of Chitrakonda and the rest of the district. Although the region has become a safe-haven for Marijuana cultivation, propelled by Maoists, the locals believe that the climate and soil favour tamarind cultivation, as reported by the daily.
Maoist insurgency in the area
The isolated nature of the area gave birth to cases of violent Maoist insurgencies as well. Malkangiri has been one of the worst-hit districts with regards to Maoist incidents. In fact, according to The New Indian Express, over the last decade, the cut-off area has itself seen severe bloodshed with the death of at least 25 civilians and 49 security personnel, which includes 37 Grey Hounds (special anti-naxal police forces) of Andhra Pradesh.
The topographical isolation allowed Maoists to create a stronghold in the area and provided them with a secure location to operate out of. The area had also gained significant notoriety after the February 2011 incident, when the Maoists abducted the then Malkangiri collector R. Vineel Krishna. Knowing that the bridge was being constructed, the Maoists even attempted eight times to impede the work.
The Logical Indian Take
The construction of hydel power projects, supposedly for development had pushed 30,000 people from 151 villages into the ambit of hopelessness and isolation. The people of the “cut-off” region will once again be reunited with the rest of the district. The people of the area, without this bridge, would’ve been slipping away deep into the clutches of Maoists. Economic deprivation and inaccessibility had left the villagers in despair, and the new bridge will most likely revive the region’s growth.