During the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, candidates belonging to the BJP and its ally Apna Dal in four constituencies adjoining each other in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand had made a unique poll promise to their electorates.
They had promised that if elected, they would jointly move to get a bridge constructed over the Sone river connecting Panduka in Rohtas district of south Bihar to Shrinagar in Jharkhand’s Garhwa by 2024.
The BJP candidates of Bihar’s Sasaram, Jharkhand’s Palamu, Chhattisgarh’s Surguja and Uttar Pradesh’s Robertsganj Lok Sabha seats–these constituencies border each other–made this promise to their voters.
While Sasaram and Palamu seats are reserved for scheduled castes, Surguja and Robertsganj are reserved for scheduled tribes.
The construction of this bridge has been a long-standing demand of the people of the hilly and forested Kaimur Plateau that straddles the junction of the four states and covers the four constituencies. Many parts of the plateau are in the grip of Maoist terrorists.
The demand for a bridge over Sone river was first raised in the late 1950s by people of Sasaram, which had been represented in the Lok Sabha for many terms by Congress stalwart Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Despite the Congress, and later its allies, being in power in Bihar (Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000), Madhya Pradesh (Chhattisgarh was carved out of that state in 2000) and Uttar Pradesh for many decades since Independence, this demand was never considered.
The BJP, and its Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal, took up this demand before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and this became a central campaign issue in the four constituencies.
The poll promise helped the BJP candidates win Sasaram, Palamu and Surguja and the Apna Dal win Robertsganj.
After the elections, Sasaram MP Chhedi Paswan, took up the demand very actively with Union Road Transport Nitin Gadkari.
Paswan, who had won Sasaram in 2014 as well, told Swarajya from Patna that Rs 500 crore had been allocated for construction of this bridge in the 2018-2019 Union budget. “But that money was diverted for construction of the Vikramshila bridge across the Ganga in Bhagalpur,” he said.
“I took up this issue very strongly with Gadkariji and he intervened personally to ultimately sanction the project under the Central Road Infrastructure Fund (CRIF) in 2019 itself. But the pandemic and the state (Bihar) Assembly elections (last year) delayed matters,” said Paswan.
The detailed project report for the construction of the bridge had already been prepared and last week, the Bihar cabinet granted its final approval.
Construction of the 2.2 kilometer long bridge at an estimated cost of Rs 210.13 crore is expected to start right away and will be completed by early 2024.
Palamu’s BJP MP Vishnu Dayal Ram (he won the seat in 2014 also) said that the people of his constituency and the neighbouring Surguja district of Chhattisgarh would benefit the most.
“At present, people of Palamu and Surguja have to take a very circuitous route and cross the Sone river by boat to reach Aurangabad (in Bihar) and then take the highway or the Grand Chord (railway) line to travel to Varanasi and other cities,” the Palamu MP told Swarajya over the phone from Delhi.
Varanasi is the nearest and most preferred city for the people of Palamu, Surguja and neighbouring areas for their medical, educational, professional and other needs.
“The new bridge will reduce travel distance of people from Palamu and Surguja to Varanasi by 70 kilometeres to 100 kilometeres and travel time by three to six hours. That will be of immense help to the people of my constituency and Surguja and will also save lives of critically ill patients who have to be rushed to Varanasi,” said Ram.
It is the people of Surguja who have the most to celebrate. “The Sone river is impossible to cross during the monsoons and travel to Varanasi–the city we depend on for even emergency medical needs–takes anything between 14 and 17 hours. With this bridge, the travel time will come down to eight to ten hours. And what’s more, we will not have to depend on the vagaries of weather to cross the Sone. We can cross the river and go to Sasaram ro board a train to Delhi or take the expressway to Varanasi, Prayagraj and other big cities very easily then,” Surguja Lok Sabha MP Renuka Singh told Swarajya over the phone from Delhi.
The people of Robertsganj will also benefit from the proposed bridge, says its Lok Sabha MP Pakaudi Lal Kol. “Our economy will benefit since farm produce from Surguja and Palamu, and all its neighbouring areas, can be easily transported to Robertsganj which is an important trading hub,” said Kol.
The Sone river separates the Kaimur and Rohtas districts in Bihar, Garhwa and Palamu districts of Jharkhand and Sonbhardra district in Uttar Pradesh. People of these districts have to take a very circuitous route to cross the river at present.
Sasaram MP Paswan told Swarajya that before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and Apna Dal candidates of the four constituencies jointly decided to promise the people that the bridge would be completed within the next five years.
“We made this a major poll plank since people of this region have been demanding a bridge over the Sone river for many decades now. We decided that if elected, we will jointly move the Union government to allocate funds and ensure speedy construction of the bridge,” said Paswan.
In fact, all the four MPs have been meeting Gadkari and also the chief ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand to fast-track all permissions and clearances. “It is because of our joint efforts that land acquisition and other issues were sorted out very fast and all clearances also came through. Paswanji (Sasaram MP) and I pursued the matter with our respective chief ministers and with all the departments to ensure all files were cleared fast,” said Palamu MP Vishnu Dayal Ram.
The two MPs feel that getting all clearances and approvals despite the pandemic was only half the job done; they have now vowed to keep close tabs on the pace of construction to ensure that the bridge is ready by early 2024.
“We are determined to tell our electorates in 2024 that we have kept our promise,” asserted Paswan. “One year has been lost due to the pandemic, or the bridge would have been half-complete by now. We are firm on making up for the lost time and have the bridge ready in 24 to 26 months’ time,” said Ram.
That’s a promise that the 60 lakh-odd people of the region, most of them economically and socially disadvantaged, will be waiting eagerly to be fulfilled.