Gurupriya Bridge: A triumph in Maoist-infested hinterland of Odisha

Manish Kumar | Aug 8, 2018 | 6 min read

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Gurupriya Bridge: A triumph in Maoist-infested hinterland of Odisha


Manish Kumar


It was in June 2008, when a 64-member team - comprising Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhound anti-Maoist force and few Odisha Police personnel - was returning from a combat operation in the cut-off villages of Odisha’s Malkangiri district, that an ambush of Naxalites capsized their boats on the Sileru River and killed around 37 officers.


The rebels had apparently been emboldened by the lack of security cover in the hinterland, long severed from mainland Odisha by the Balimela Water Reservoir. The incident became a major security breach in the district known as a Maoist-infested area and part of India’s Red Corridor.


The cut-off areas are situated near the border of Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, where an inter-state Naxalite group is quite active. In the absence of a single concrete road or bridge to connect the 151 villages (hosting around 30,000 people) to the mainland, the left-wing extremists were able to target the security forces through the hilltops along the river.


This was not the only incident highlighting the level of Maoist threat in the area and especially to the newly-inaugurated Gurupriya Bridge in Odisha, which now connects the state’s Chitrakonda block with the hinterland.


In 2011, Malkangiri collector RV Krishna who was visiting the cut-off zone was abducted by the Reds near Jantapai village.


Under Maoist shadow


Dubbed the ‘Swabhiman Anchal’, the severed zone area borders Malkangiri, Koraput and Vishakhapatnam, and the Maoist wing that operates in the area is called the Malkangiri-Koraput-Vishakhapatnam Division (MKVD). 


Anti-Maoist operations here have been entrusted to specialised forces like the Special Operations Group and the District Volunteer Force under the Odisha government, and the elite Greyhounds of the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Several times joint operations are also undertaken together by these specially trained groups of anti-Naxal combat forces. 


The isolation and deprivation of Malkangiri’s interior villages has over decades turned them into fertile ground for the extremist ideology to take root. Such has been the clout of the Reds that they always opposed the construction of the ambitious bridge, issuing threatening posters and even calling strikes in the area to make their presence felt.


It took the bridge, for which the first tender was issued way back in 1982, as many as 36 years to come up in its concrete form this year.


Despite the area’s history of terror and frequent attacks and bloodshed, the newly constructed link is now being used en mass by the villagers of the cut-off zone.


The threats persist, though, with the rebels threatening to blow the bridge up, but security personnel have chipped in with extra security to the people, contractors and others with the hope that the new link will lead to development work that would draw out the severed areas and abandoned people. The Reds are now also reported to be continuously inciting people against the newly-constructed bridge. 


Malkangiri SP Jagmohan Meena is an optimistic man.


"The Gurupriya Bridge will not only help in tackling the menace of Naxalism in the area but will also bring facilities which were earlier a Herculean task,” he says, adding that “without the bridge, it was not possible to transport construction material, borewell machines or big electricity poles. Road construction was also a pain, while the lack of telecom services still remains a challenge”.


The SP plans to continue with the security arrangements made at the time of the bridge’s construction. Companies of the Border Security Force, which has been tasked with ensuring security, were earlier deployed on either side of the bridge and will continue to be stationed there. “We have ensured CCTV cameras on the bridge, lighting arrangement at night and checkposts for scrutiny of passers-by,” he says.


The security situation


Security personnel involved in making Gurupriya Bridge a reality pointed to the lack of concrete roads to reach the bridge in the past. "If roads are kuccha, threats of IED blasts increase. To tackle this, BSF troops were deployed on either side of the bridge. The challenge was to ensure uninterrupted supply of food and beverages to the troops. We developed a cordial relationship with the villagers nearby and in the process they learnt to become involved in the area’s economy," a senior security force officer explains.


Currently, there is only one police station for the entire population of the cut-off zone. Ajay Swain, Inspector-In-Charge of Chitrakonda Police Station, said the Papermetla Police Station in the hinterland serves the 151 villages there but is situated in the BSF camp on the other side of the bridge. The lone police station at Papermetla used to get maximum cases related to Naxal issues, says Laxmi Narayan Muduli, officer-in-charge at the Papermetla police station. "With the strength of our police force in the cut off area we tried our best to serve the people there." 


The district administration and security personnel are making all efforts to wean away the Maoist base in the interiors. Venturing deeper into the hinterland, they have set up a camp 7 km ahead of the bridge, in the village named Jantapai which has been under the influence of the Maoists, a high-ranking police official revealed.


The camp, hosting around 100 personnel, was arranged overnight and around a month before the inauguration last week, because had the rebels got information of it they could have tried to mobilise people against the personnel. The camp is now expected to thwart the Naxalites from coming closer to the bridge.


SP Meena is hopeful that access to development will help people shun violence and build faith in the system.


"With better access to facilities and resources, and improved telecommunication, the villagers are surely going to join hands with us. People were happy to see us and understood that we were there to help. They aided us in selecting land and installing the BSF camp. We went to Jantabei when the bridge was ready and people were happy," he says.

TIMELINE:

TIMINGS

DEVELOPMENTS

 

 

1982

First tender for Gurupriya floated

1986

The bridge was conceptualised

2008

37 Greyhound cops killed by Naxals

2011

Malkangiri Collector RV Krishna abducted

2015

3 BSF personnel, 1 civilian killed by Naxals

2016

24 Naxals killed, 1 BSF commando loses life

2018

Odisha CM inaugurates Gurupriya bridge


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