Boatman in rural Odisha builds a bamboo bridge across river by mortgaging his only piece of land

Boatman in rural Odisha builds a bamboo bridge across river by mortgaging his only piece of land

Boatman in rural Odisha builds a bamboo bridge across river by mortgaging his only piece of land

A bamboo bridge built by a tribal boatman has become a ‘lifeline’ for about 50 villages in Odisha's Koraput and Nabarangpur districts, where residents had been braving the monsoon to cross the river.

Bhubaneshwar: July last year, Sumati Bhatra (25) was seven months pregnant and had developed some health complications. It was monsoon season and her village of Kontasariguda, situated in the Kosagumuda block of Odisha's Nabarangpur district, was cut off from better healthcare at the block headquarters at Kotpad, which is separated from Nabarangpur by river Indravati. Sumati was unable to access the appropriate treatment in time. 

"It was raining heavily, and it wasn't safe to board the boat during the late evening, so we waited till morning and went to the block headquarters at Kotpad. From there, I was again referred to the district hospital at Koraput, about 65 kilometres from Kotpad. I ended up giving birth to a stillborn baby. If this bridge had been there at that time, I would have reached the hospital early and might not have lost my baby," rued Sumati.

The bridge she referred to was built in September 2021 by Jaydev Bhatra, a 56-year-old tribal boatman. Jaydev's selfless initiative not received government and media attention but also put his non-descript village of Basuli village — situated in Kotpad block of Odisha's Koraput district — on the map. 

Jaydev Bhatra used to row his boat on the Indravati river to eke out a living. But, every day, he saw thousands of villagers from both the districts facing inconvenience in their commute due to the unavailability of a bridge on the river.

"During the rainy season, it was even riskier to cross the river by boat. I have witnessed many accidents here in the last 30 years. My old boat would also shake a lot when I rowed it across the river during heavy monsoon. Carrying passengers in such conditions would mean putting their lives at risk. I am not a rich man, but I wanted to do something for these people. So I decided to build a bamboo bridge for them so that they could travel across easily," Jaydev told 101Reporters.

Jaydev mortgaged his only piece of land — a three-acre sugarcane farm — for Rs one lakh and spent all the money to build this bridge. "Three years ago too, we had constructed a wooden bridge with contributions from the villagers, but that was washed away in the rains. This year, I found that the villagers could not contribute, so I had to do it on my own. I am happy that I could complete this 100-meter bridge for the people," Jaydev added with a smile. 

Jaydev Bhatra working on the bamboo bridge (Video still courtesy of Sarada Lahangir)

Working with his son and the occasional help of the villagers, he completed the bridge in a month, joining the bigger bamboo sticks with wire, in an old technique that has stood the test of time.

Thousands of people from about fifty villages are solely dependent on Kotpad block for their health and education. This bamboo bridge made by Bhatra connects Basuli in Kotpad block of Koraput district and Kontasarguda village of Kosagumuda block of Nabarangpur district. 

The government had also started constructing a bridge at Chirma in Kosagumuda block. However, due to land disputes, it has remained incomplete for several years. 

Sonar Pujari, Sarpanch of Gumuda Panchayat in Kotpad Block, informed 101Reporters that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had laid the foundation stone for a bridge at Chirma village of Nabarangpur district in 2016. "The bridge was supposed to have been built by 2018. The cost of the project was estimated to be Rs 16.30 crore. The deadlines were extended twice, once to 2019 and then to 2021. But unfortunately, in these five years, not a single pillar of the bridge has come up."

Meanwhile, Nabarangpur district collector Kamal Lochan Mishra clarified in a tweet to CMO. "The photo shown in the clipping is a temporary bamboo bridge constructed with the initiative of Jaydev Bhatra at Kantasariguda across river Indravati. They are demanding for construction of a new bridge over the river Indravati on Kantasariguda to Basuli village of Kotpad block under Koraput district. But Presently, an HL bridge of 9x30.63 m span over river Indrāvati is under construction, which is only 3.17 km on the upstream side of the said location (Kantasariguda to Basuli). Similarly, another bridge spanning 9x30.63 m over the Indravati River is already completed at Rajoda's Benia Nadi Ghat road connecting to Kotpad since 2017, which is 5.19 km downstream from the said location has not been included in the shelf of the bridge project."

Sonar believes that had the Chirma bridge been completed, then several villagers would have used it. Now, people of both blocks are dependent on Bhatra's bamboo bridge. He added, "people of this area have been demanding the bridge on Indravati River for a decade, but nothing has been done. Thankfully this boatman Bhatra has made it into reality. I don't think anybody has the commitment like Jaydev to spare time, money and energy for the sake of the people. It is really praiseworthy. This bridge would cut down the distance between two blocks by over 25 km. It would help the people of these areas in getting access to healthcare and education."

Sumati echoed Sonar's sentiments, saying, "This bridge might just be a bridge for people who live in towns, but for us, this is a lifeline." 

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