Agra, July 15 (IANS) In September 1989, Rajiv Gandhi, then the prime minister, laid the foundation of a bridge on the Chambal river. Nearly 23 years later, there is no sign of any structure on the site.
Where did the bridge, which would have been a boon to villagers in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, go? asked Naresh Paras, secretary of the Agra Right To Information (RTI) Forum.
Genda Lal, project manager of the UP State Bridge Corporation, said: "The foundation stone was laid in September 1989. But work did not progress due to lack of coordination and permission."
But Subodh Sharma, an activist from Pinahat, 75 km from here, asked why was the foundation stone laid if environmental clearance or a no objection certificate from the forest department was not there?
The issue has come to light through an RTI application filed by Paras.
The bridge on the Chambal, from Agra to Morena in Madhya Pradesh, was to be built at a cost of Rs.24. 50 crore, according to estimates presented before the state finance committee in 2006.
Currently, villagers cross the river on a pontoon bridge. "And during the rainy season, only big boats can ferry people across," says Subodh.
A UP State Bridge Corporation official, who did not want to be named, said the corporation had not received permission for the bridge since it was located within the Chambal wildlife sanctuary - a protected area.
A Supreme Court committee too had to clear the project. Repeated letters and reminders have been sent to the forest conservators in Gwalior and Lucknow, but there had been no response, the official said.
However, the wildlife sanctuary was notified five years after the foundation stone was laid.
"For five years, they did nothing even though at the rally organised for Rajiv Gandhi, it was said that the bridge would be ready in a few years," said Ram Sewak, a resident of Bah.
N.D. Tiwari was UP chief minister and Moti Lal Vora the state governor, said V.P. Mishra, a local resident. Sonia Gandhi had accompanied Rajiv Gandhi for the function, he said.
An application had been sent to a centrally empowered committee of the Supreme Court in 2007 for clearang the project.
People of Jodhpura village in Pinahat have preserved the foundation stone tablet with Gandhi's name on it.
"The villagers still hope the bridge will come up some day," said Banto Devi, a Dalit woman on whose land the tablet stands.
In reply to the RTI query, the sate Bridge Corporation said: "The detailed project report and execution plan are prepared only after clearance."
But Paras differed. "Look at the facts of the case. The people of the area have been cheated. They were given a lollipop at the time of an election (the Lok Sabha polls were held in November 1989 and Rajiv Gandhi's Congress was voted out of power).
"The Congress forgot and later other parties too failed to highlight the issue. We have a minister from the area in the Akhilesh Yadav-led state government. If he takes up the matter, some progress can be made. Whenever the bridge comes up, it will be a relief to the people on both sides of the river," Paras said.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)