Foundation stone for the Gurupriya bridge was laid by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik 12 years back and before him by J B Patnaik two decades ago. The project, however, is yet to take off.
The 900-metre bridge over the Gurupriya river, near Balimela reservoir, has been hanging fire for years as no contractor, including major construction firms, has been willing to take the job fearing Maoist attacks. The government has floated tenders for the construction of the bridge seven times with no result.
The bridge, once completed, will connect Odisha’s mainland with more than 30,000 people, mostly tribals, residing in about 150 villages under eight panchayats of Malkangiri.
Maoists have been opposing construction of the bridge at Janbai because it would provide easy access to the cut-off area bordering Andhra Pradesh, a hotbed of Maoist activities, for security personnel. The area is covered with forests and hills making it a safe haven for Maoists.
The bridge work was assigned to the Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC) in 2002 with a cost estimate of Rs 38 crore. It was revised to Rs 47 crore as the State Government found that the bridge could not be completed with the help of conventional design. The OBCC subsequently withdrew from the project.
Gamon India Limited (GIL) was also involved in the construction of the bridge, but in a short period, GIL withdrew because of threats from the Maoists.
After GIL’s exit, no organisation has come forward to take up the construction work. Even as the issue of providing security for construction of roads and bridges in the area was taken up last year during the meeting between the Director-General of Border Security Force (BSF) Raman Srivastav and Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik, it has yielded no response.
Earlier during his visit to the State this year, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had regretted the failure of the State Government to construct the bridge.
After the Department of Works failed to take up the project, the responsibility fell on the Odisha Construction Corporation (OCC), a State Government undertaking. Meanwhile, the cost of the project had escalated to about Rs 50 crore. After several tender notices were issued, one contractor applied for the work but at 300 per cent of the original cost. Official sources said OCC is now exploring an alternative route for the bridge.