Development initiatives in Jharkhand have received another blow with the rebel Naxals preventing the construction of a bridge over the Koel River.
Naxals in the Gumla-Lohardaga area are reportedly now forcing people to cross the river in improvised wooden boats at great risk to their lives. Several have lost their lives in the river. During the monsoon, the water level rises to 30 feet, increasing the danger to life.
The government has sanctioned the contract for the construction of the bridge, but no one is willing to come forward to undertake the task out of fear of a Naxal reprisal.
Local residents are in dire need of the bridge but the Naxals have been preventing its construction for a long time. It has led to an aggravation of problems in the daily life of local people.
Naxals don't want the bridge constructed out of fear that it would expose the location of their camps. About 50 villages in the region remain unconnected as a result.
They are hardly concerned with the development of the area or the welfare of the villagers.
"It is a main river here, but the locals have to face a lot of hardship to cross it. There have been several occasions when there were talks of bridge construction, and every time the Naxals just dismantle it. This is the reason why there is no development," said Ashok Shukla, a Gumla resident.
"It's been three to four years since the plans to construct a bridge over the Koel River are going on. But there has been no initiative to construct the bridge, and this has dejected the villagers here," claimed Baghmbar Ohdar, another resident in Gumla.
"We have read various newspaper reports about administrative officials' efforts to construct the bridge over the Koel River, but we are just living on assurances till date," Ohdar added.
"It is not just the families, but also education which has have suffered badly due to absence of proper bridge over the river. There are times when boats cannot float, especially during heavy rains," said Ajay Kumar, a Gumla resident.
Villagers are surprised when told the Naxals are the voice of the voiceless. They say the Naxals are the actual enemies.
Local residents are waiting for the day when development does actually take place, but are also aware that the Naxalites will view such developmental works as a challenge to their existence and not let it happen.