Op-Ed: A Bridge Too Far

The much needed – and much delayed – second bridge on River Brahmani in Rourkela is fast turning out to be a joke played on the people of the Steel City on All Fools Day three years ago by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. April 1, 2018, as ruefully pointed out by Rourkela MLA Dillip Ray in a Facebook post today, will mark the third anniversary of this crude and cruel joke by the PM.

No answers are forthcoming from the central government on why work on the badly needed project has not begun yet, full three years after the PM’s announcement and nine months after Union Minister for Roads Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, after laying the foundation of the bridge on July 21, 2017, announced that it would commence in “15 days”. Commuters have a harrowing time negotiating the existing bridge, which is the lifeline of the Steel City. Constructed nearly six decades ago, the bridge is in a completely dilapidated state and could result in a major mishap anytime. The urgency of the second bridge thus can hardly be over-emphasised. But for reasons known only to itself, the Central government has delayed the start of work on the bridge so far.

The chronology of events since the PM’s announcement makes it clear that there is more to the delay than meets the eye. For well over two years after the PM’s announcement, the delay in starting construction of the bridge was attributed – falsely as is clear now – to the absence of forest clearance for the proposed expansion of NH 143, which includes the second bridge on Brahmani. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in a letter to Gadkari on December 4, 2017, asked for permission to the state government to construct the six-lane bridge as a ‘stand alone’ project in view of the inordinate delay. Gadkari wrote back the next day, saying work on the bridge can start ‘in a week’ after the issues of land acquisition and forest clearance are sorted out. The Chief Minister wrote back the very next day, clarifying that the bridge was on non-forest land and hence no forest clearance was needed to start work on it. There has been no response from the Centre after that.

Even on the larger project of expansion of NH 143 & NH 149 (Biramitrapur-Barkote), the state government informed the MoEF on February 9, 2018 that it had cleared all formalities for forest clearance at its end and sought expeditious grant of forest clearance to the project. Dharmananda Sarangi, the CGM of the NHAI in the state, has admitted as much. And yet, neither has the Centre granted final forest clearance for the project as a whole nor has it started work on the bridge as a piecemeal project till now.

All this while, Dillip Ray has repeatedly taken up the matter with the concerned authorities, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Road Transport minister Gadkari, apart from regularly raising the matter in the state Assembly, the last time on Tuesday. He even boycotted the Vikas Utsav celebrations organized by the BJP in Rourkela on June 6, 2016, in protest against the delay, but to no avail. It was as if some ‘unseen forces’ were bent on delaying the work on the bridge to the detriment and disappointment of the people of the city.

For once, the Naveen Patnaik government is spot on in its perennial refrain of ‘central neglect’. It may have procrastinated on the issue in the past, leading to the withdrawal of Gammon Infrastructure Private Limited (GIPL), a subsidiary of Gammon India Limited (GIL), from the project in 2013 citing lack of progress in land acquisition and grant of forest clearance. But after a fresh tender was invited and the project was assigned to M/S GKC Projects on August 2, 2017, the state government cannot be faulted for not taking measures to expedite work on the project.

The ball is now squarely on the Centre’s court. But no one in the central government is coming out with a convincing explanation on why the work has not started yet. In the absence of an official explanation, the field is left wide open for speculation on the possible reasons and conspiracy theories. If the grapevine is to be believed, the delay has to do with a tug-of-war within the BJP. Someone very powerful in the party apparently doesn’t want the work to start lest Dillip Ray, who has been completely marginalized in the party, walks away with credit for the bridge!

If true, this is cause for serious concern.



(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.)