The fertile and chronically flood-lacerated swathe of the Mithilanchal belt in north Bihar witnessed a watershed moment in its urban ecosystem when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar inaugurated the ‘Kosi Maha Sethu' — a rail-cum-road bridge — in Supaul district on Wednesday.
The bridge was destroyed in the 1934 Bihar-Nepal earthquake, dividing Mithilanchal into two halves and reducing the entire townships to rubble and killing tens of thousands of people.
The loss of this bridge, known as the ‘Lifeline of Mithilanchal,' had hampered traffic and commerce for several decades.
People this correspondent spoke to reminisced how they had to traverse a circuitous route from one part of the Mithilanchal (including Purnea, Araria and Supaul districts), which led them through Birpur in neighbouring Nepal, in order to reach the other part (districts such as Darbhanga and Madhubani).
They had to travel hundreds of kilometres just to reach the headquarters of Supaul district, barely a few kilometres from Madhubani district.
The 10.63 km-long bridge, of which 1.87 km is built over water was completed at a cost of more than Rs. 400 crore.
“The development of a State is reflected in the construction of roads and bridges,” said a satisfied Mr. Kumar at a packed event in Nirmali block. Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways C.P. Joshi was the chief guest.
Mr. Joshi lavished praise on Mr. Kumar, leading to speculation on a potential alliance with the UPA in the future, given the Janata Dal (United)'s decision not to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Activists across the region felt that development in the form of this bridge had come at a very high price indeed.
They said the lives of at least 70,000 to 80,000 people from 60-odd villages in and around Nirmali and Saraigarh Bhaptiyahi would be in grave danger as the 15-km wide Kosi river would be made to funnel through the narrow bridge, owing to the construction of a couple of ‘guard dams' inside the Kosi embankments where thousands of people reside.
According to them, this would lead to a steep rise in the water level during floods or a discharge from Nepal, thus putting human lives at stake.
“Most of the villages in and around these blocks had submerged during a flash flood in August 2010, with many people living inside the embankments contracting water-borne diseases. They were cut off from any medical and other aid relief operations at the time of the crisis” said Narayan Chowdhary of the Mithila Gram Vikas Parishad, one of the bodies opposing the project.
Other organisations have also joined hands with the main opposition party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, in demanding compensation and rehabilitation for the displaced villagers.
‘Black flags' were shown during the event, while scores of people were taken into preventive custody to prevent any ‘untoward' incidents.