KOCHI: Pizhala's wait for land connectivity continues. The island in Kadamakkudy Panchayat with a population of over 4,000 people still depends on ferry services to connect to the mainland. And, for the same reason, the lives of over 1,000 students and many others who are employed in the mainland, continues to be a struggle. But, not to let this continue, the residents and students of the island are on a warpath demanding their Constitutional right of movement.
The talks for land connectivity started way back in 2005. However, the plans for constructing the Container Terminal Road popped up simultaneously, pushing the Pizhala bridge proposal to the backburner. Finally, in December of 2013, the stone-laying ceremony of the Pizhala bridge was carried out by the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. However, at the time there was no environmental clearance. Land acquisition work didn't start either. However, the promise was the bridge would be finished in the next 18 months. The budget was around Rs 38 crore.
The then action council for Pizhala bridge staged a protest back in 2016. Environmental clearance became an issue then, causing the change in design so as not to convert the wetland. The estimate rose to Rs 82 crore. The landowners were willing to give advance possession to tender the bridge and the work began. But, the collapse of two beams halted the construction.
The study report hinted at negligence. Another meeting was called wherein the residents protested against the delay. Subsequently, a meeting was held on June 27 this year wherein a decision was reached that the work will be finished by November. A committee to monitor the project was also formed. However, the floods played spoilsport and the work lagged. It could be restarted only by August.
The bridge is almost finished now. It only needs bed concrete, a few slabs and an approach road. But, the work lags. However, finishing the bridge alone won't connect Pizhala to the mainland. That will still require a landing and an approach road.
While a separate project for developing the bridge landing it into a 9-metre road is being planned, the immediate demands are a zero landing and a 104-metre approach road which will ensure connectivity sooner. However, this work is yet to be tendered. Benny E X, chairman, Development Standing Committee, Kadamakkudy Panchayath said the tender will be floated after land survey. "We expect to do it by December 15. After that, we will finish the approach road in six months," said Benny.
Recently, the Pizhala Karamuttikkal Samaram was launched by the residents and activists demanding basic facilities. Students are at the forefront of the struggle. They will soon be meeting the District Collector with letters narrating their issues. The students have also warned about launching an education strike if the connectivity is not established by the next academic year.
"There are cases where patients die due to the lack of connectivity, people getting late to work and thus losing their jobs and students getting punished for being late. They risk their lives everyday. When everyone else in the state has a choice, we don't," said Maglin Philomena, an activist.