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Connectivity on Paper: Collapsing, Pending Bridges Point to Jerks in Bihar's Infrastructure Journey

By: Majid Alam


Last Updated: October 20, 2020, 09:01 IST

A portion of a new bridge connecting Gopalganj and East Champaran in Bihar collapsed in July.

A portion of a new bridge connecting Gopalganj and East Champaran in Bihar collapsed in July.

Bridge and rail projects over rivers hold significant importance in Bihar as 6 major rivers crisscross major transport routes between districts hindering rural and infrastructural development.

While poll-bound Bihar’s demands have moved beyond Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s age-old poll promise of ‘bijli, paani aur sadak’ (electricity, water and roads); collapsing bridges, unconstructed sanctioned projects and the urgency to launch new ones point towards hidden cracks in the state’s 15-year-old ‘sushasan’.

In an exclusive conversation with News18, Bihar’s Road Construction Minister Nand Kishore Yadav said that the focus of the state government has been to build bridges over the 6 major rivers in the state- Ganga, Son, Kosi, Gandak, Baghmati and Phalgu. “There were only 16 bridges constructed on these prominent rivers from 1947 to 2005. Since 2005, the state government has constructed 25 bridges,” he added.

Yadav also said that 14 bridges are under construction and tender allotments of two projects have been recently completed. Bridge and rail projects over rivers hold significant importance in the state as several rivers crisscross major transport routes between districts.

While the JDU-BJP-led government in Bihar may have promising numbers in place, ground realities differ. In July this year, an approach road of a minor bridge connecting Gopalganj and East Champaran collapsed after heavy rainfall in the region, just 29 days after it was inaugurated by the Chief Minister. The approach part of the 1.4km Sattarghat Mahasetu bridge on Gandak River was thrown open to commuters eight years after work on it started on the project worth Rs 264 crore in April 2012.

Again, a month later, portion of a 200-feet-long bridge over the Bakra river in Araria district collapsed. A tractor, a motorcycle and some pedestrians fell into the river.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kosi rail mega bridge in September this year, close to 14 years after work started on it. Meanwhile, residents of Nawan village in Bodh Gaya constituency had given up their land for the Dobhi-Patna road in 2011; the project is yet to see light of day.

Similary, over the last one and a half decades, several projects in the state have either remained incomplete or have exceed deadlines. News18 analysed three significant bridge projects over Ganga river that far exceeded their stipulated date of completion.

Rail cum Road Bridge in Munger

The road leading to the rail cum road project in Munger was inaugurated by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002. Close to two decades later, the crucial Munger bridge that would have connected the district to Khagaria remains inaccessible. The rail bridge was inaugurated by PM Modi in March 2016.

The approach road to the bridge near Begusarai’s Sahebpur Kamal is still not operational due to disputed land in the line of the project. “After realignment of the bridge the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has been given allotment of the land. There was some issue with a portion of the land which was disputed between 3 ‘raiyat’ (caretakers). We have provided the possession to the NHAI. There were 10 houses on the project site. We are in the process of providing compensation to the owners. We have resumed the work and NHAI will complete it soon,” said Arvind Kumar Verma, District Magistrate of Begusarai.

As the bridge remains incomplete people travelling from Saharsa, Begusarai, Khagaria and Katihar need to take a detour of hundreds of kilometres to reach southern districts of Munger, Lakhisarai or Bhagalpur.

“The structures occupying the land allotted for the bridge has been removed, the plan was to complete it by December or the starting of 2021, but due to Covid-19, the work was held for some months,” Verma added.

Khagaria-Sultanganj Bridge

Few kilometres further down the Ganga, the construction work on the Aguwani Ghat in Khagaria and Sultanganj in Bhagalpur has been delayed due to similar reasons.

According to Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam the project got approval in November 2013 and work started in 2015. However, the project that was supposed to be wrapped up by November last year is still in its construction phase.

It was halted due to land acquisition issues and later because of Covid-19. The deadline for completion has now been extended to June 2021.

“The project is halted due to land acquisition issue. The farmers don’t have required papers for the land. The government gives opportunity to the farmers to claim their land. The process takes some time,” a district official working on the project said on the condition of anonymity.

“50 percent of the land acquisition is almost complete. The project work has been resumed after Covid-19 pandemic, the bridge will be completed by June 2021. If we don’t get the land acquisition how can we complete the project,” he added.

Bakhtiyarpur- Tajpur bridge project

The project was started in 2011 at a cost of Rs 1,600 crore. However, midway, the tender to the respective construction company had to be cancelled. The bridge was scheduled to complete in 2016.

“The project was awarded to a company. But the company was not working. Therefore the state department cancelled the tender and issued a new tendering for the project so that it could be completed,” State Minister Nand Kishor Yadav told News18.

Once complete, the 5.5 km long bridge will connect Nawada, Munger and Nalanda districts to North Bihar by-passing Patna. The project is now likely to be completed by 2022.

Why Bihar Needs to Expedite its Halted Projects

According to a research by Central European University’s Associate Professor of Economics Miklos Koren, “A bridge is useful as it lets you trade with the other side of the river and it reduces the trade costs between the two sides of the river.” The research also suggests that bridges lead to increase in gross income, allow for more traffic being directed to cities, so cities could thrive and sustain themselves.

In Bihar, while the existing bridges are old, others are partially operational for heavy vehicles. For example, the bridge in Mokama does not allow heavy vehicles while the traffic load on Gandhi Setu has led to demand for more projects.

The Kachi Dargah-Bidupur Bridge project was inaugurated ahead of 2015 assembly polls near Patna to reduce the travel time by one hour. The six-lane project connecting Kachchi Dargah in Patna district to Vaishali’s Bidupur was planned to decongest the traffic from Patna. The deadline for the project is December 2021, however it seems unlikely as the bridge is still in its initial stage.

“Bridges are very critical and they not only add to smooth communication and transport but also in a lot of trade with neighbouring states and Nepal. Also, a lot of construction and trade activity could be stimulated. Such projects will help the rural areas as the markets will improve. There has been underinvestment both by the state government and to some extent the central government. The state has lagged behind in the development of infrastructure,” said D K Srivastava, chief economic advisor, EY.

With less than a month to go for state polls, lack of connectivity in key districts may mar what is otherwise considered an infrastructurally clean Nitish babu image.

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