The 151 villages in Malkangiri district of Odisha, the Naxal-affected bastion, which was completely cut off from the rest of the state for almost last 46 years, due to the Machhkund and Balimela reservoirs in the Chitrakonda forest has now finally been reconnected to the state.
A decade ago, on June 28, 2008, due to the isolated nature of the area, 37 specially trained policemen of Andhra Pradesh’s elite anti-Maoist Greyhound force became target practice for Maoists while they crossed the Balimela reservoir in Malkangiri district of Odisha on a ferry. They were all killed in a gutsy assault by the Maoists, who were well equipped and strategically positioned on the forested hills around the reservoir. They strafed the boat until it sank. The area remained forgotten after this gruesome attack.
An impassive attempt to connect these villages through a ‘hanging bridge’ in 1982, by the then Odisha Government headed by Janaki Ballabh Patnaik of the Indian National Congress party, was made at a cost of seven crores. But due to the half-heartedness of the then Government, the project never took-off.
Gradually, these 151 villages, cut off by a reservoir in the Chitrakonda forest area, drifted away from the political mainstream into the lap of the Maoists.
Another attempt to connect these lost villages were made in the year, 2005, but Gammon Infra, the builder, ultimately backed out after threats of violence and blowing up of the bridge emerged. By 2008 when the Greyhounds were killed, no one wanted the bridge any longer, and it became a forgotten chapter.
The Navin Patnaik Government went pillar to post, requesting the Home Ministry and other agencies to execute it under schemes for ‘Left Wing Extremism’ (LWE) affected areas, but no concrete plan could emerge as it was considered simply too risky. The State however determined finally went ahead with its plans and almost a decade after the Greyhound incident occurred, the task was accomplished and a bridge called the Gurupriya bridge is now ready for inauguration.
What was estimated at Rs 7 crores in 1982 has been constructed at a cost of Rs 172.5 crores by Kolkata-based Royal Infraconstru Ltd. But ultimately, the project of constructing the 910 metre-long bridge with 22 spans that will now connect 30,000 people to the rest of the state and also allow for anti-Naxal operations to be conducted has been accomplished with 38 flood lamps fixed under the bridge to keep a watch on any activity in the river and CCTV with night vision cameras has been installed and linked to surrounding BSF camps.
Before this task, another mammoth task of building a bridge in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh that reduced the distance between the towns of Dornpal in the Maoist-affected Sukma district to Podia town in Odisha from 120 km to just 3 km was successfully executed by the Odisha Government.