Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The tribal residents of more than 25 villages in Malkangiri’s Swabhiman area ( earlier known as cut-off area) recently staged a demonstration at Mudulipada demanding that it be declared a panchyat as it was more accessible to them. They also sought infrastructure development and livelihood opportunities in the area which has been a Maoist hotbed for several decades.

The demonstration, an assertion of rights by the people, was symbolic of the renewed hope and confidence among the local tribals who have become more vocal about their rights since the inauguration of Gurupriya bridge by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik in July last year. The bridge connects 151 villages in what was once known as Malkangiri’s “ cut-off” area, so called because of its difficult topography, with the district’s mainland. Gurupriya has become the symbol of hope for the people of this once benighted region.

For more than five decades since 1964 when the Balimela hydel project separated them from the mainland boats were the only means of communication for the people of this region with the rest of the district. The 910 meter long bridge with a width of 8.4 meters was conceived in the 80s but could not be completed due to the reluctance of contractors who feared attack by Maoists.

The then Congress chief minister, JB Patnaik was the first to lay the foundation stone for the project but it remained a non-starter. In 2000 foundation stone for the project was laid afresh by chief minister, Naveen Patnaik who had stormed to power dislodging the Congress. The work was entrusted to the Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC) but this time, too, the rebels succeeded in driving contractors and workers away from the site.

In October, 2014 the work was entrusted to the Kolkata-based Royal Infraconstru Limited with BSF providing round the clock security to the workers at the site. The project was completed last year after missing several deadlines. Now the bridge not only connects people living across the Balimela reservoir with Malkangiri’s mainland it is also expected to facilitate anti-Maoist operations in the Swabhiman area which is considered to be a rebel stronghold.

The Maoists had gunned down 32 elite Greyhound Commandos from Andhra Pradesh and a constable of Odisha police in this belt on June 19, 2008 when they were trying to cross the Balimela reservoir. The area was once again in focus in 2011 when the radicals kidnapped the then Malkangiri collector R Vineel Krishna from there.

No wonder while dedicating the bridge to the people last year the chief minister had renewed his appeal to the Maoists to join the mainstream. “ Violence is not the solution to anything. Peace is important for development”, he had said.

“#GurupriyaSetu signifies a resurgent #Odisha, will transform lives in 151 villages that were cut-off for 5 decades. It is not just a bridge, it will be the identity & Swabhiman of #Malkangiri,” Patnaik had tweeted after inaugurating the structure.

The bridge has really become the symbol of hope for the majority tribals of the area. But it is now time for the government to fulfil their growing aspirations.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)