September 20, 2022
In a country where the priority is for Bullet Trains and provision of 6 lanes road connectivity to airports, footbridges in remote villages which could truly save young lives don’t make news and our liberals have no views.
On August 8, 2022, Sannidhi, a seven-year-old girl studying in II std. at Chapparike Government Primary School in Kalthodu village slipped from a contraption of timber poles which is otherwise called a footbridge near Beejamakki, built over a water ditch. Sadly, Sannidhi couldn’t be saved alive.
Her body was found some half a kilometre away down-stream after over 48 hours search. According to reports, Sannidhi was returning from school along with another student while two girls had already crossed the footbridge successfully before her. Third person was Sannidhi who was unfortunate who slipped on slippery poles joining two sides of the stream.
Reportedly, a scientific concrete foot bridge was sanctioned some eight months ago. But Public Works Department (PWD) has been dilly-dallying to go ahead with the project. Now that the neglect has cost the life of a young girl of seven years, the district minister S Angara wants to act tough on the PWD engineers responsible for the delay.
At the same time Byndoor MLA B M Sukumar Shetty claiming (may be even falsely) that in his Byndoor constituency some 200 small foot bridges have already been constructed and there is additional demand for some 160 more of such bridges. But none questioned, why the foot bridge sanctioned 8 months ago with Rs12 lac budget was not immediately built and commissioned.
Besides other issues, it would have at least saved the life of a 7-year-old girl Sannidhi.
MLA Shetty has offered to educate the younger sibling of Sannidhi which none in the family expressly desired. It is sheer common sense that he was only offering it for public consumption, as if he is a concerned individual. This is opportunism at its worst. All these gimmicks cannot bring back the life of young Sannidhi who paid her life for the political and administrative apathy of this government. This footbridge has a long history. It’s been on the development radar for a long time and accidents like the one that happened with Sannidhi is not the first one. There have been such incidents in the past but apathy put paid to any heightened seriousness of addressing this important need of locals everywhere. This is the takeaway of another kind on this platinum jubilee of our political independence.
PWD defaulted, delayed the project
I spoke to the local MLA Sukumar Shetty to get first hand report of the incident, the pathetic condition of the footbridge and to know if he has done anything worthwhile aftermath of this tragedy. He explained that he immediately rushed to the site and met the family members.
He categorically maintained that PWD (Public Works department) is wholly responsible in delaying to build a scientific bridge across the stream, although it could be due to the excessive rains and obstacles created by the local private property owners in transporting the materials.
When asked about the immediate compensation paid to the family, MLA Shetty said an amount of Rs 5 lac has been already paid from MP Lad fund and Rs 1 lakh has been paid from MLA local fund. He also said he has further promised a compensation of Rs 1 lakh which will be paid to the family after the Vidhana Sabha session.
Press reports following the above tragedy suggest that the MLA B M Sukumar Shetty did visit the spot along with former chairman of zilla panchayat Raju Poojary, tahsildar Kiran Goraiah, Byndoor PSI Pavan Nayak and former chairman of gram panchayat Appanna Shetty and met the family members.
Visit of a minister
A week after the above tragedy, S Angara, a minister in the government of Karnataka, who also happens to be the district-in-charge minister of Udupi District in coastal Karnataka was on an emergency visit to the district. He was addressing media in the Circuit House informing that there would be a campaign to construct foot bridges all over Udupi district and that there would be hundreds of footbridges constructed under MGNREGS.
As we all know MGNREGS represents Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This particular scheme was enacted and notified by an extra ordinary Gazette of India on September 7, 2005 and came into force on February 2, 2006. This is a labour law with social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’ of some 100 days per household.
It’s a good initiative, although belated, for the micro financial empowerment of rural household. Among the umpteen projects that can be taken up under MGNREGS, are “providing all weather rural road connectivity to unconnected villages, including construction of pucca internal roads within the villages” “Works for improving disaster preparedness or restoration of roads or restoration of infrastructure including flood control and related works”.
Although specifically not covered, under rural road connectivity, foot bridges on rivulets or streams for the village folks, especially school going children could have been thought-about and constructed.
PMs first address to the nation, August 15
It may not be out of context to refer to the address to the nation on Aug 15, 2014, by the new Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. In his first address to the nation as Prime Minister, he had asked MPs, MLAs and MLCs to go back to their constituencies and try to adopt a village to make it a model village in all respect within the next 5 years period with the help of their Local Area Development Fund.
If only these people’s representatives had taken the exhortation of PM Modi, Sannidhi could have been saved for sure. But we are Indians; we only act after tragedy strikes. And our media is as apathetic to issues of concern as the political class and bureaucracy. On August 15, this year, in the Times of India the prestigious newspaper of the nation, which published 18 pages in the main paper with supplement of 48 pages, nowhere issues of concern affecting the have-nots of the society figured, let alone the news of a tragedy of losing a small child. YEH MERA INDIA.
An airport at Dharmasthala
When will politicians make some responsible statement and act accordingly! Veeranna Somanna, or simply V Somanna, an MLA who became a minister in Karnataka government reportedly remarked or floated an idea of having an airport in Beltangady, which is 60 km from Mangaluru where the present international airport is located.
V Somanna, who is the minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing, was visiting Beltangady to distribute letters to beneficiaries of housing schemes under Basava Vasati Yojana and BR Ambedkar Vasati Yojana. He reportedly remarked that ‘since there are number of devotees visiting Dharmasthala, a temple town, there is a need to set up a mini-airport in Beltangady’.
He was only playing to the gallery including Veerendra Heggade, the head of Dharmasthala temple complex now nominated as a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha. The proposal of V Somanna is full of technical flaws. Perhaps V Somanna is not aware of any other temple in coastal Karnataka, including Udupi Sri Krishna Temple, Kollur, Murdeshwar just to name a few. These temples are far away from the Mangalore International Airport than the Dharmasthala temple complex. Has the minister conveniently ignored the fact that once an airport is sanctioned for Dharmasthala, the people visiting other temples of Coastal Karnataka will not keep quiet. Why to blow a hollow and nasty trumpet?
But what is still unfortunate is the fact that such politicians have all the time and resources for promising big projects like an airport without any such demand, but they neither have time nor resources for the crying needs of those living in hamlets cut off by rivulets and streams in the interiors of coastal Karnataka. The case in Kundapura points out to such an urgency. This is not an isolated case. There are hundred such places needing urgent intervention. The situation has been in pipeline for donkey years and the projects already sanctioned are not implemented.
It has to be noted that as an Infrastructure minister, V. Somanna did not think it’s necessary to visit the tragedy spot to get the first-hand appraisal of the situation. But he has all the time in and resources to build an all-weather airport at a cost of some 100 crores. YEH MERA INDIA.
Visit of a humanist-cum-journalist
In August this year, a news coverage with pictures published by daijiworld caught the attention of a courageous journalist cum social activist and the publisher of the prestigious magazine, ‘Issues & Concerns’ Jayaram Shriyan. His heart melted when he saw the photograph of a child fallen from an unscientific footbridge.
Along with photographer Raghavendran from the daijiworld Udupi office he visited the tragic site on Saturday, September 17, 2022. What he saw and reported later is a matter of importance.
He did confirm the news of the visit of the local MLA B. M Sukumar Shetty who met the parents of the child and promised immediate relief. But what came to light is something startling. The concerned MLA Shetty didn't walk on the contraption called footbridge. If at all he had crossed the footbridge himself to the accompaniment of his entourage he would have realised the agony and distress of so many school children, besides other general public who cross the bridge day-in and day-out. If we calculate the school days in a year, the students pass through this bridge for some 250 days throughout their academic year, twice a day- with their life in their hands and prayers on their lips.
Talking to us, a visibly disturbed Jayaram Shriyan said – “What a tragic this lopsided development has claimed. He then said, “My ultimate objective would be to erect a memorial to the soul of this child Sannidhi and to make sure that we have a proper footbridge at the place so that all future users of this footbridge especially small school going children could cross the stream with confidence and without fear.”
Further, he added – “Surely, I need to coordinate with the local Panchayat authorities to get the design approved and to give their sanction to go ahead. I wish to complete this process within the shortest possible time. To that end I request the support of media fraternity, the civic authorities and the general public. Only then a pure humanitarian task could be reached to its logical end.”
(With inputs from ‘Issues & Concerns’)
Pics: Daijiworld Udupi