Malkangiri: Just a year ago, more than 30,000 tribals in 151 villages in Chitrakonda block of Malkangiri district were living in darkness or Bichhinnanchal, cut-off from mainland for nearly five decades. The area soon came to be known as Swabhiman Anchal after the inauguration of much-awaited Gurupriya setu (river over bridge) by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on July 26 last year. It raised hopes of inhabitants of Chitrakonda block to get fruits of developments. And it came true.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the opening of Gurupriya Bridge is a milestone in terms of peace and development. It linked the mainland to 151 isolated villages of Balimela reservoir in the Maoist-infested Malkangiri district.
At the time of inauguration of the bridge, the Chief Minister had announced a Rs.100-crore package for development of the remote cut-off areas in the district. Through the package, the cut-off areas would become regions of pride. The special package included a fishery project in the reservoir, construction of two roads in the erstwhile cut-off areas, electrification, drinking water supply, provision of healthcare and a new bridge at Manyamkonda.
After the construction of the Gurupriya bridge, Sakrubandha and Jantapai hanging bridges were constructed in order to facilitate movement to the Swabhiman Anchal. Along with this, many villages were also connected by all-weather roads.
Notably, development was eluded from the ‘cut-off’ villages since the late 1970s. It was an uphill task for the villagers to reach Malkangiri town that caters to the health, educational and administrative needs of the people. Reaching the main town involved walking, bus journeys, boat rides, and more walking through forests, rivers, and rocky roads. In some cases these arduous journeys spanned over more than 50 hours.
Because of its extreme remoteness and only land link with Visakhapatnam district in adjoining Andhra Pradesh, the cut-off region became a safe haven for Maoists. In course of time, the Maoist menace went increasing.
Finally, the Naveen government brought happiness among the people by opening the 910-metre bridge, which is now symbol of nation’s pride and people’s trust on government.
One year after the inauguration of the bridge, there has been an all-round transformation in region by facilitating fast-paced development through improved connectivity, health, education, electrification and access to public services.
The economic activities gained pace creating better livelihood opportunities for the people. Earlier, the people used to barter goods produced or gathered by them for things they did not have. They would, for example, barter bamboo and tamarind for millet and ragi grown on family farms by others. The scenario has been changed now. The local farmers got new avenues for selling their produce.
The State government has taken a several measures to promote fish cultivation and started turmeric cultivation projects for the betterment of local people. Moreover, there is a proposal to construct a hospital at Paparmetel and a ‘Maa Gruha’ was inaugurated at Hataguda of Badapada, after Gurupriya bridge connected the area with mainland.
It is heartening to note the fact that the area is now attracting many tourists from various places including Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Thousands of tourists are coming to this area every day away from the din and bustle of the city life, for picnic and merrymaking. As a result, nearby areas of Gurupriya bridge like Badapadar, Panasagandhi and Sanyasiguda have turned picnic spots. Furthermore, a provision of boating has been developed at small islands in the river around Gurupriya.
The State has been striving for the further development of the Swabhiman Anchal.