ROURKELA: Come monsoon and six rivers in Sundargarh district add to the miseries of a vast rural population who remain cut off from the mainland during the season as the rivers swell.
Ferry service is the only option during monsoon for about 14 lakh villagers divided by rivers Ib, Safei and Sankh in Sundargarh sub-division and Brahmani, Koel and Deo in Panposh and Bonai sub-divisions. During rest of the year, they depend on bamboo bridges at about 45 strategic locations to cross the rivers.
Woes of the people have mounted further from last year as the district administration strictly implemented the Odisha Boat Rules 2004 following Hirakud boat tragedy that claimed 31 lives. Illiterate ferry owners are left in the lurch as obtaining licence for boat service is a tedious procedure and they have to travel to Bhadrak where licence is issued by the office of Directorate of Ports and Inland Water Transport.
Sources at the District Emergency Office here said only one ferry licence was renewed this year for Sundargarh ghat. In 2014, as many as 21 ferry licences were issued with a validity period ranging between eight months and one year. Of them, 20 have applied for renewal.
Zilla Parishad member of Nuagaon block Pappu Sahu resented that construction of bridge over river Koel is lingering for eight years. If completed, it would benefit a population of about 60,000.
A villager of Nuagaon Rajesh Xess said only three ferries at Jamshera, Mitkundri and Riu ghats are running and majority of villagers using them are poor farmers and daily labourers. Deprived of any help from Government, the villagers have to shell out fare ranging from Rs five to Rs 30 per head to cross the rivers. While Rs 10 is charged for ferrying a bicycle, one has to pay Rs 30 to take a motorcycle on a boat.
Meanwhile, the newly-constructed Lalei bridge has been opened, establishing direct link between Bonai sub-divisional headquarters and Lalei village in Lahunipara block. It will benefit about 60,000 population of nine gram panchayats under Lahunipara block and two panchayats of Bonai block. Work is in progress for a bridge in Lathikata block over river Brahmani, while another bridge in Nuagaon is in planning stage.
Sundargarh Collector Bhupendra Singh Poonia said the administration is aware of the difficulties faced by villagers and instructions have been issued to complete the under-construction bridges as soon as possible.