After setting off a mutiny against the British rule in Meerut in May 1857 — often referred to as the first war of Independence — the Indian soldiers quickly reached Delhi crossing the river Yamuna through the bridge of boats (pontoon), located behind the Lal Qila (Red Fort).
It is believed that the link, originally constructed by Jehangir, was rebuilt by last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. It took the British several days before they could assemble an army and defeat the rebels to recapture the capital.
The British decided to destroy the bridge to prevent further influx of the sepoys from the east. One such effort was recorded by Charles John Griffiths, a British Army official, in his memoirs. Describing an attempt made on August 5, 1857, he wrote that the responsibility to blow up the bridge was given to engineers. To witness the pulling down of the facility, some of the officers went to the rooftop of the Flagstaff Tower (now located in Kamla Nehru ridge in the North Campus area of the Delhi University).
Griffiths’ account is part of a compilation — ‘Letter of spies: And Delhi was lost’ — edited by Shamsul Islam.
“Two rafts filled with barrels of powder (gun-powder) with a slow match in each were sent down the river….. One blowing up half a mile from the bridge. The other continued its course, was described by some mutineers on the opposite bank, who sent off men to the raft on massaks (Mashak—water bag made of sheepskin used to carry water). It was a perilous deed for the men, putting out the fuse towed the engine of destruction to shore.
The attempt was never made. The bridge remains intact to last,” it said. Later, the bridge witnessed the residents of Delhi fleeing the city. On October 7, 1858, Bahadur Shah Zafar left Delhi over this bridge in a bullock cart that led him to the journey of his banishment in Rangoon. It remained the only link to commute between the eastern bank and the city until 1866 when Bridge No 249 (in technical railway parlance), commonly known as ‘Lohe ka Pul’, was constructed.Thus began the story of modern bridges — rail, road, and metro — over the Yamuna in Delhi.
As many as 14 more bridges on 52-kilometre stretch of the Yamuna in Delhi — between Palla and Badarpur — passing through the city have come up since then — the iconic Signature Bridge being the latest. The Signature Bridge was inaugurated in November 2018 after 14 years it was conceptualised.
Earlier this month, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) commenced preliminary work of the fifth Metro bridge over the river, which is part of the Majlis Park–Maujpur Metro corridor under phase-4.
The Metro link will connect Soorghat station with Sonia Vihar station in north-east Delhi.
First modern bridge
The construction of Lohe-ka-Pul (two-level rail-road bridge) or the Old Yamuna Bridge was started in 1863, a year after the death of Zafar in Rangon. It is the most iconic reminder of the early engineering capability of Indian Railway companies. Before its construction, passengers travelling to Delhi from Lahore and Calcutta were ferried across the Yamuna in boats. Earlier, the king had opposed the idea of its construction behind the fort. The bridge’s was expansion was done in 1913, following the rise of rail traffic on this route.
“Lohe Ka Pul was the first bridge over the Yamuna in a true sense because two previous bridges — Wazirabad and Mangi bridge — connecting Lal Qila and Salimgarh Fort were constructed over the braided Yamuna. Lohe Kal Pul was constructed over the full span of the river,” says Swapna Liddle, convener, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Delhi chapter. The Britishers did not make the second link in Delhi over the Yamuna. After Independence, a second bridge over the river was planned.
Hence, the Wazirabad Barrage Road Bridge came into being in 1957 that served as a significant connection between north-east Delhi and north Delhi. The two-lane stretch is frequented by thousands of vehicles plying between Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Haryana or Punjab daily. “The bridge was secondary. The main purpose was to provide adequate water to Chandrawal Water Treatment Plant (the oldest facility in Delhi) because the population of the city had increased manifold by then, and the demand of the water was increasing,” AK Jain, former commissioner (planning), Delhi Development Authority, says. The construction was done by the National Project Construction Corporation. The last time it was repaired and rehabilitated in 2019.
Linked to trans-Yamuna
Around 10 years after the Wazirabad bridge, two barrage-cum-road bridge — Indraprastha (old ITO bridge) and Nizamuddin — were constructed over the river. The function of the ITO bridge was to hold water in the Yamuna, while Nizamuddin bridge was built for road traffic. Both are still vital connections between east Delhi and central Delhi.The Nizamuddin (on National Highway-24) bridge assumed significance when Mayur Vihar, Patparganj and adjoining localities were developed in the 1980s. Expansion of these bridges, parallel road links were also added in 1998.
With the development in north-east Delhi, another road bridge was planned near Inter State Bus Terminal (ISBT) Kashmere Gate. About 2.5 kilometre-long facility over the Yamuna connects Central Delhi to Shastri Park, Seelampur, and Shahdara further. At present, this one of the important connections between Delhi and Ghaziabad. It was thrown open to the public in 1990. The Geeta Colony bridge was created in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in 2010.
Second rail bridge
To decongest the Old Delhi Railway Station, the second rail bridge in the city — on the New Delhi Railway Station-Ghaziabad route — was constructed across the Yamuna in 1969. The initiative was part of the ‘Goods Avoiding Project’ for goods trains plying from Sahibabad to Tughlakabad station.
Then came the Kalindi Kunj bridge or the Okhla barrage road in 1984. It was redeveloped in 2013. This route was used by the majority of the commuters travelling between South Delhi and Noida for years.
Another important link between Delhi and Noida over the Yamuna was the Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) Flyway which was started in 2001. A six-lane bridge parallel to the existing Okhla barrage, by the Noida administration, was opened in January 2019 to ease commuting between Delhi and Faridabad or Noida.
The first Metro bridge over the Yamuna was constructed in 2002 on the Kashmere Gate-Shastri Park stretch (Red Line). In 2009, the stretch connecting Indraprastha and Yamuna Bank stations on Blue Line was completed. The fourth bridge connecting Janakpuri with Botanical Garden was opened in December 2017. Jain, however, says the construction of bridges exclusively for the Metro over the Yamuna is a result of lack of forethought of the authorities as they should have planned properly with provision for road traffic. “The present authorities lack vision. They are shortsighted. Instead of only the Metro, they should have planned road links, too, along with these bridges. The Britishers had thought about it 150 years ago. The Lohe Ka Pul has dual-level (for trains and vehicles) — when there were hardly a few vehicles on the city roads. They had planned it keeping in mind the future of the city,” says Jain.
Proposals for more projects
The third phase of the Barapullah elevated corridor will connect Mayur Vihar in east Delhi to Sarai Kale Khan and INA Market in the south. It aims to provide seamless connectivity between Mayur Vihar-I and Sarai Kale Khan, making the nearly 9.5 km journey to the AIIMS signal free. According to the Delhi Traffic Police and the Public Work Department (PWD), the city requires at least 30-40 more facilities given the flow of traffic to ensure faster mobility.
“The existing bridges over the Yamuna are not sufficient. The government should plan more interlinks especially towards the northern part of the city,” says a former PWD official. Another project — the East-West corridor for signal-free connectivity from Anand Vihar in the east to Tikri in the west is also in the pipeline. In 1997, the railways had conceived a new bridge to replace the Lohe Ka Pul, parallel to it connecting the Old Delhi Station to the Shahdara Station on the Delhi-Howrah route. The project is delayed due to several hurdles. The contract was given to the IIT-Delhi to provide technical expertise in the matter. The new deadline is December 2020.