Usually, if you want a bridge to be named after you, either you need to be a politician or someone significant who would have achieved great heights in society. However, the determination and good intentions of a boatman from a tiny village in West Bengal has the ‘Lalchand Bridge’ named after him, and very much during his lifetime.
- Sheikh Lalchand, 48, is a boatman in Kulia, a remote village in Howrah district, some 80 kilometers from Kolkata
- A resident of Ghoraberia-Chitnan, Lalchand had been rowing a boat on Mundeswari river for a living
- He used to help people cross from one side of the river to another in his boat, but at the same time, he was also disturbed to see the plight of students, elderly and women, especially pregnant women
- The only way the villagers could cross over the bridge, was through a boat, however, the same was not possible many a times, when the water level rose up or during summers when the river became shallow and muddy
- Despite repeated pleas to the government and the local administration, nobody bothered to build a bridge for the poor and needy folks
- According to Lalchand, political leaders also visited the site ahead of 2006 and 2011 Assembly elections to fool them with the hope of constructing a bridge in their area, however, none of them returned after laying a foundation for namesake
- Most of the villagers had moved on as usual with their lives, but the boatman truly wanted to do something to permanently resolve the plight of daily commuters
- It is then he approached the panchayat with an idea to build a bridge but they laughed at him, since Lalchand barely earned a few hundreds of rupees
- Eventually, the panchayat allowed him to go ahead, with all the expenses to be borne by himself
- The head of the village assumed that this would discourage Lalchand and he won’t return again with this impossible idea
- But Lalchand was extremely determined in his endeavour which was estimated at Rs 7.5 Lakhs
- The first thing that he did was sold his wife’s ornaments for Rs 3 lakh which made her very angry as she felt it foolish for her husband to sell off his personal belongings to help unknown people, who were not even his family members
- He also borrowed money from his friends and even pooled his savings
- With the money gathered, he hired 16 labourers who knew how to build a bridge and bought 3,500 bamboo sticks suitable for the purpose
- After dedicatedly working for 28 days, Lalchand’s dream was now a reality
- The passers by couldn’t believe what they saw, especially built by a man who would now probably lose his livelihood of ferrying them by boat
Nominal Toll Tax
- Those on foot or a bicycle pay Rs 2
- People on two-wheeler Rs 5
- Magic IRIS Tata vehicles pay Rs 50
- Maruti Van pays Rs 100
How People Benefitted
- The bridge was completed in 2014 and people happily pay a nominal amount of toll price to ply on the Sheikh Lalchand Bridge
- The bamboo bridge has reduced travel time to Kolkata, earlier accessed only by road, by a good two-three hours
- Earlier, people did not wed their daughter in Ghoraberia-Chitnan and surrounding villages because of poor connectivity but the easy accessibility has changed that
- More than 2,000 people now use the bridge everyday
- For security and surveillance, there are four cameras installed which see that two vehicles are not plying from the opposite directions at the same time
- In another benefit, the bridge has also allowed police to inspect the area and helped the crime rate in the villages go down
Maintenance Of The Bridge
- If building a bridge is tough, maintaining it is a completely different task
- The bridge incurs a heavy expenditure to maintained along with the expenditures of his employees
- In addition, six persons are employed round the clock for the inspection and maintenance of the bridge and the four surveillance cameras to monitor the movement of vehicles as well as for security
- According to him, he spent nearly Rs 4 lakh again from his daughter’s personal jewellery for its repair
However, today Lalchand is in favour of an even more effective solution. He wants the government to replace the bamboo bridge with an iron structure to facilitate the village folk and the passage of heavy goods vehicles, even if it would mean loss of income for him. He concludes,
The permanent bridge will help villagers sell their produce directly in local markets or in distant areas.
Several such stories of nameless fameless men are buried in small corners of India and we can only do our bit by sharing their noble deeds and giving them their deserving due.
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