Bridge, only solace for Hirakud displaced after 60 years

Too little, too late __ this sums up the bridge constructed over Ib river, a tributary of Mahanadi, which flows directly into the Hirakud Dam Reservoir. The bridge connects Rengali block in Sambalpur district with Lakhanpur in Jharsuguda and was mooted more than six decades back along with Hirakud Dam project. Sources said it was conceived as part of Hirakud Dam to connect people displaced by the multi-purpose project and settled in both the districts on the periphery of either side of the reservoir. The bridge is all set to help the industries more than the displaced who have virtually lost contact in the last 60 years. Although the bridge work has been completed and is being used unofficially, it is awaiting inauguration by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is yet to find time to realise the long-pending dream of people of both the districts.

The Hirakud Dam was dedicated to the nation by Jawaharlal Nehru on January 13, 1957, and he termed it as the ‘temple of modern India’ and had lauded the sacrifice of the people for the dam. The dam saw 26,501 families being shifted from the 249 revenue villages which got submerged in the reservoir. While none is sure how many among them got compensation, there is no denying that it was one of the biggest human displacements and the State Government forgot about their resettlement and rehabilitation after displacement. The fact that paltry compensation of many families remain unclaimed till date and speaks volumes about the apathy of the Government towards the displaced.

Despite their sacrifice, the displaced dreamt of a bridge over the river to stay connected with their fellow kith and kin residing on either side of the reservoir. Since it was a long distance from Lakhanpur to Sambalpur, approximately 110 km, the bridge was the only way to reduce the distance. This had led Rampella Gountia, Late Loknath Panda, the then Chairman of Lakhanpur block Girdhari Panda and Communist leader Prasanna Kumar Panda to raise the issue in all forums, including the State Assembly. Finally, the State Government, in the 80’s, sanctioned Rs 22 crore for the bridge.

It was only after the boat tragedy which claimed 31 lives in 2014 that the Government finally took serious note of the demand and Naveen laid the foundation stone of the 2.5 km bridge at an estimated cost of Rs 117.5 crore. But the objective clearly envisages that the bridge will provide a new link between the coalfields of MCL in Jharsuguda and State Highway-10 near Rengali.

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