Lost lifeline: how Patna's Mahatma Gandhi Setu fell into disrepair
Until not long ago, the Mahatma Gandhi Setu was the only link connecting Patna to north Bihar. When it was opened by Indira Gandhi in 1982, it was touted as Asia's longest road bridge. Now, it's a monument to ruin and state neglect.
While the main structure of the bridge is largely intact, save for a crumbled span near pillar 46, it is no longer as sturdy as it was. In fact, repair work has hardly ever ceased over the past 15 years or so. As a result, several patients have died before reaching hospital, weddings have been delayed, students have missed their exams.
Yet, despite the seemingly incessant "maintenance", the bridge is only ever deteriorating. And that's quite sad for this 5.5-km long, two-lane bridge once brought the capital closer to hundreds of villages across over a dozen districts of north Bihar. Before it was built, the people from this region could only reach Patna by boat - two government-run steamers would ferry passengers every morning and evening. If you missed the steamer, you had no choice but to put off your visit to Patna, no matter how urgent. So, villagers would often spend the night at the riverside, cook sattu for dinner and wait for the steamer to arrive in the morning.
The bridge made the capital accessible to a large population. A day's journey shrank to just a few hours. However, the wheel of time seems to have come a full circle. At least, the present condition of the bridge suggests as much.
The people of north Bihar are again wary of taking travelling to Patna. If it's necessary to visit the capital, one cannot estimate the time of the journey. It might take just two hours or you may find yourself stranded near the bridge for the whole night, waiting for your turn to cross.
To their relief, the central government decided, on 22 June, to give a new lease of life to the bridge. It approved Rs 1,742 crore for its reconstruction. Announcing the decision, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said this proposal had been pending for the past 15 years. The official statement said the bridge would be constructed "after dismantling the damaged pre-stressed cantilever arms superstructure and subsequent re-decking by the steel truss".
Thanks to this, the people of north Bihar can again look forward to smoother journeys.