Friday, May 6, 2016

The Elusive Bridge!

The Elusive Bridge!

By Zubair Ahmed

Boat journeys often bring out interesting moments and conversations. Though, it might be a little different if you are traveling between Chatham and Bambooflat with every conversation beginning or ending up discussing the elusive bridge.

Today, afternoon with the sun beaming its hottest rays, the little space with shade on the boat was brimming with passengers trying to evade the scorching sun. There was shade, but no escape from the humidity. Agitated with the delay in departure, a lady was seen shouting why the boat is not leaving. A guy answered the lady and also added a line about the relief the bridge would bring in.

This triggered a journey-long discussion between two friends, and I was a mute spectator to the conversation that started with a note on the bridge and finally ended up questioning our existence itself!

One of the guys said that the bridge is not economically viable, and raising his eyebrows enquired about the population of the Islands and the feasibility for such an expensive bridge. This hit the other guy so hard that he reeled out a list of questions that numbed my senses for a while.

"Do you think, the boat that you are traveling is economically viable? You pay eight rupees and the government spend more than a hundred rupees on your each trip."

"Do you think whether the water that you get through pipeline is any less expensive than the bottled water available in the market? Add the expenditure of the water section of APWD plus the hundreds of tankers carrying it from east to west and north to south, and finally landing up in your glass!"

"Do you know, when you go home, and switch on the fan, and the tariff that you pay for one unit of electricity that it consumes is nowhere economically viable."

"For that matter, you know your existence itself is not economically viable in the Islands!"

"Your every breath is maintained and sustained by Plan and Non-Plan fund from the Centre. The fresh oxygen that you inhale is no more free as all of us think. Do you have any idea about the expenditure incurred by the forest department in 'conserving' the forests?

"And, how does it matter, if the bridge is not economically viable?" he asked emphatically.

"You should also know that whether the elected representative, the state president of ruling party or for that matter, the Lieutenant Governor can't be very assertive about their demands, as what they have in their hands are nothing but begging bowls, of course, of different sizes and shapes."

So whom should you blame? he asked thumping on the fuel tank of his bike.

Yes, if you have to blame, you should blame Capt. Archibald Blair who surveyed the Islands in 1789 for finding the place suitable for penal settlement.

Yes, the blame should be on J P Walker, who landed on Chatham Island with the first batch of 200 mutineers on 10th March 1858! Had he not landed on Chatham, there would not have been a demand for bridge between Chatham and Bambooflat.

Yes, the blame should be on those British guys, who thought Chatham suitable for a saw mill, and the ones who were culpable for connecting the Island with Haddo by a causeway, which further raised hopes of the people living on the other side to have bridge connectivity.

How can you not blame the Andamanese tribe, who lost the Battle of Aberdeen fighting the Colonial forces? Had they won, there would not have the British and the settlement, and the demand for a bridge too!

How can you not blame Colonel Michael Lloyd Ferrar, Chief Commissioner, a man who lent his name to the largest Tehsil, Ferrargunj, in South Andaman? Had he not seen a vision for development of the place, there would not have so many villages contently living amidst their agricultural land and homesteads dreaming of a bridge between Bambooflat and Chatham.

Jarawas cannot be spared from the blame! Had they strongly resisted the Settlers and not remained content being pushed to one corner of the Island, the dream of Col Ferrar would have failed and there would not be a demand for a bridge later!

There was some hope still left till the Japanese occupied the Islands. The Allied Force pilots who bombed Chatham Island, failed to sink the Island keeping the hope for a bridge still alive!

After Independence, blame lies primarily on the Defence forces, who without take into account for a bridge built their harbour as well as the many ships of different sizes and heights!

How can you not blame the aircraft carriers to be built or inducted in the future? Though INS Vikrant did not come inside the harbour in 1980s, it raised the hope for INS Virat to enter the harbour later!  Blame is due for the hope of the aircraft carriers entering the harbour for the hopelessness of the bridge between Chatham and Bambooflat!

You should also blame the nuclear powered submarine, which once entered the harbour. Had it anchored on the mouth of Port Blair harbour near Ross Island, tunnel could have been a possibility.

When economics, history and geography have to be blamed for the elusive bridge, how can someone point finger at the ruling dispensation in the UT or at Centre?

Maybe, they are aware about the predicament and also ashamed of their position. That's why the Administration is not coming out with any conclusive answer to the queries raised by the public about the status of the bridge, promised by Gadkariji.

When the boat reached Bambooflat, the guy who questioned the viability of the bridge suddenly changed topic and emphatically said,

"Modi is very powerful. He will surely send Sonia and Rahul behind bars in the AgustaWestland chopper deal."

Indeed a respite in the otherwise hot weather!

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