Medinipur: Sunita Mandi gives a 'shy, rural, feminine' smile while gazing at the camera as she boards the bus to Kharagpur. She has put her bundle of 'Karaan mushrooms' on the rooftop of the bus. The bridge over river Subarnarekha or the golden river now enables her to board a bus directly from Kharikamathani town near her village to sell the seasonal 'Durga Puja wild mushrooms' at the hats in Keshiary and Kharagpur for the babus. Earlier, she had to cross the river on boats.
She picks up the wild mushrooms and boards the 7.45 am bus to Kharagpur, gets done for the day by 12 noon and returns back home.
Touted as one the most 'visibly delivered' results of development in Junglemahal, the bridge over Subarnarekha river, named fondly as 'Jungle Kanya' or daughter of the forest, was inaugurated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself on February 10 this year. The bridge has opened up the communication for people of Nayagram area which was earlier cut off by the river and was severely Maoist insurgency-hit. The opening up of communication has increased the employment opportunities of the people on the other side of the river. Like Sunita, Dhaniram Manjhi can go directly to Kharagpur, 40 km from his home, sitting in a bus to work as a construction labourer and Madhyamik (Class X) student Arpan Saha can cycle every day for evening tuition to Keshiary from Kharikhamathani. The bridge is a boon for them as it has bridged an obstacle, the river.
However, the concrete structure that bridged the water flow has become a bane for the river itself.
Rampant sand quarrying has created huge craters in the bed of the river which has become pits of quicksand. Not distantly, few students of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur had drowned after being pulled down by quicksand as they went into Subarnarekha to have a bath.
"Earlier, some 20 trucks used to come for sand quarrying in the river. After the bridge, some 200 trucks come now. We all know that quarrying is affecting the river like anything but still the greed for money enables the bosses to continue with it," said Sashadhar Mahato (name changed), a local Trinamool Congress union member that used to fix the lease to particular individuals, thus opening up huge avenues of a graft.
The locals and the truck drivers, mostly migrants from Bihar for whom the truck is their home, say that since Vishwakarma Puja (September 17), the quarrying has been stopped as the government itself will call tenders for quarrying. "We have strict orders to stop quarrying activities. We do not know when the quarrying is slated to start after government tenders," a police official in Keshiary Police station said.
The pits created by the quarries also pose threats to the fishermen, who have lost their jobs as boatmen, after the bridge came up. "The pits in riverbed are very dangerous. The quicksand in them can suck persons. We have to be very careful while treading the riverbed," said fisherman Kinkar Das.
Subarnarekha, like other south Bengal rivers, gets inundated every monsoon due to heavy rains and wreaks havoc in neighbouring villages by flooding them. Like its other South Bengal counterparts, it remains dry rest of the year. The river, originating in Chotanagpur plateau gets its name from the legend that its waters have very tiny particles of gold washed from the mineral rich plateau. Many people are still seen holding clothes as sieves in the waters in search of tiny gold particles.