KEONJHAR: His effort to connect at least six villages with the mainland is now legendary. He has invested all his savings to build a bridge over Salandi river that would benefit more than 10,000 people who used to remain cut off during monsoon season.
Gangadhar Rout of Kanpur village in Keonjhar district spent all his retirement benefits of around Rs 12 lakh to complete the "under construction" bridge for past 14 years. Nearly a year after 76-year-old Daitari Nayak of his district made it to the headlines for carving out a 3-km-long canal through the hills, the sexagenarian has earned the title of 'bridge man' for his noble work.
Construction of the bridge taken up by the Hatadihi block administration a decade back was halted halfway due to funds constraints. This is the time when Rout decided to take over the project and complete it before monsoon as neither the administration not any private organisation did come forward despite repeated requests.
"The bridge was a necessity for six villages as the residents have been facing untold miseries during the rainy season. I decided to spend my entire retirement benefits to complete the bridge. It became easier as my family members backed my decision," he said.
According to villagers, Boula Truck Owners' Association had first contributed Rs 1 lakh for construction of the bridge in 2005 following requests from the locals. The work stopped after the construction of one span due to lack of funds.
The locals then approached Hatadihi block administration, which sanctioned only Rs 4 lakh. With the meagre amount, only two more spans of the 12-span bridge could be constructed.
"We requested officials and local people's representatives for completion of the bridge, but no one paid any heed towards our demand. Local truck owners' association and other private organisations also did not help us financially. With no other option in sight, I decided to shoulder the responsibility," said Rout. The veterinary technician who got superannuated on January 31, utilised his retirement benefits of Rs 12 lakh including gratuity, leave surrender and general provident fund for the bridge work.
"My family had thought of buying a car with the money. But when I expressed my desire to spend it for completion of the bridge, they did not object. The work gives me and my family members immense pleasure. Now, I can live my rest of life in peace with the feeling that my hard-earned money was utilised for a noble cause," he added.
While so far nine spans of the bridge have been completed along with the roofing, they have set a target to complete the bridge before the monsoon. Once completed, the bridge would provide direct connectivity for villages of Kanpur, Soso, Daneipur, Padhiaripally, Niudani and Maichapada. People from different walks of life have hailed Rout for his great contribution.
"Nowadays, people run the extra mile to make money. Gangadhar is a man of the rare gene who defies the stereotypes. We had approached many including politicians, but no one took interest. He is a messiah for us. We are proud of him," said Harmohan Panda, a local.