Kolkata bridges and their three enemies: Rats, roots and poor maintenance

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:13 am IST

Published - September 05, 2018 09:52 pm IST - Kolkata

 The damage at the Ballygunje bridge.

The damage at the Ballygunje bridge.

Their sizes are ostensibly bigger than in Albert Camus’ novel The Plague , but modus operandi is the same. They assemble underground at night, sneak out through the tennis ball-sized cavities and spread out; consume the leftovers from roadside restaurants under the flyover and disappear by morning. Their movement is strikingly similar to the rodents of Camus’ novel, set in the Algerian city of Oran. Oran was ‘floating’ on rats in the 16th century, so does Kolkata in 2018.

“Look at those holes,” said Ramesh Singh, a carpenter stationed under Sukanta Setu, one of the main bridges of south Kolkata. He pointed to at least two dozen small and giant pits within a 10-metre radius from his shop, located right below the centre of Sukanta Setu. Singh and other shop owners said that they were worried as the rodents not only eat the leftovers of the restaurants but have this “incorrigible habit” of scratching underneath.

“The speed at which they are digging the earth below the bridge, I wonder how long those pillars are going to stand firm,” Mr. Singh said. The shopkeepers, however, believe that the “pillars are strong enough” to hold the bridge which is not very old. “Rodents indeed are a big problem for many bridges in Kolkata; pillars do lean owing to decades of digging by rats,” acknowledged a former government engineer.

Roots of a peepal tree gone deep inside the bridge on Anwar Shah Road and Santoshpur connector in Kolkata. Photo: Special Arrangement

Roots of a peepal tree gone deep inside the bridge on Anwar Shah Road and Santoshpur connector in Kolkata. Photo: Special Arrangement


The pillars of Sukanta Setu are indeed strong, locals said. The designers did not want to take a chance with them as the pier caps of the bridge virtually sit on the balcony of adjacent buildings. There is absolutely no gap – not even a few in centimetres – between some of the buildings and the bridge. “That is the reason why they were extra careful in constructing the pillars, …those foundations went real deep,” said a local resident whose house is next to the bridge.

The Dhakuria bridge is another key bridge of south Kolkata, connecting Gariahat to Dhakuria; it sees movement of traffic throughout the day and the bridge looks fine atop at a glance, but on the ground it is another story. Hundreds of families, mostly migrant workers from various parts of the State and the country, have been residing below the bridge for decades. They pointed at many a damage.

Kanan Gayen, 75, is one such settler. One of the key girders passes through her only room. Pointing at the inner part of the girder, Gayen said: “There are big holes there.”

Trees spell trouble for most of the bridges in south Kolkata. Trees like peepal, with strong roots, have gone quite deep into about half-a-dozen bridges. In the Ballygunge bridge (Bijan Setu), roots can be seen hanging in at least a dozen places.

Visible cavities

The bridge even has visible cavities on the sidewalks, owing to poor maintenance, even if it is frequently painted blue and white, the favourite colour of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. In the nearly a kilometre-long Belgachia bridge, cracks have appeared on the ramp; locals said they have not been repaired in a long time. As for the Gouri Bari bridge in north Kolkata, Corporation councillor Amal Chakraborty said that it had “developed a crack last year and it has been repaired.” Two supporting pillars are being constructed to avoid any tragedy, he added. Other councilors indicated that bridges in their area are not “maintained properly for years.”

[With inputs from Soumya Das]

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