Silichong residents cut off from district headquartersFor lack of concrete bridges across Arun and Sankhuwa rivers, residents of Silichong Rural Municipality have to walk 25 kilometres to district headquarters.
Two years ago, Srijana Kulung, a resident of Tamku in Silichong Rural Municipality-3 who was pregnant then, died on her way to the district hospital in Khandbari. The villagers were carrying her on a stretcher and trying to make it to the hospital, which is more than 25 kilometres from Tamku.
Silichong Rural Municipality is separated from the district headquarters by the Arun and Sankhuwa rivers. Since there are no motorable bridges over neither of the rivers, crossing them via suspension bridges is the only recourse.
Kulung’s death triggered debates on the authorities’ inability to provide safe delivery options to pregnant women. Although the President's Women Airlift Programme, under which pregnant women are rescued in helicopters and taken to the nearest medical facility for safe delivery, covers Sankhuwasabha district, the local units had not used the service. Kulung’s death changed that.
The absence of motorable bridges over the two rivers does not only affect pregnant women but the entire population of the rural municipality, say locals.
“The airlift programme is a good initiative for pregnant women but we face medical emergencies other than that. We can’t use ambulances to ferry patients to Khandbari, the district headquarters, for a lack of motorable bridge,” said Roshan Rai, a resident of Bala, Silichong-3. “Goods have to be transported via the suspension bridge and we have to pay Rs2 per kg to porters. The price of daily consumables has gone up in the past years. Everything in the villages is expensive because goods need to be carried by porters. That adds to the retail price.”
Currently, the locals of wards 4 and 5 of Silichong rely on a suspension bridge over the Arun river at Tambe in Chichila Rural Municipality to transport goods. But if there was a motorable bridge in place of the suspension bridge, the price of goods would decrease, says Rai.
The price of daily essentials is hitting the locals hard. “We pay Rs45 for a packet of salt which costs Rs20 in Khandbari. The villages of Silichong have not been able to free themselves from daily struggles and difficulties. They are still dependent upon porters and mules for the transportation of daily necessities,” said Rai.
Although the villages have motorable roads inside the rural municipality, the lack of motorable bridges over two major rivers renders the roads useless, says Rai. “There are good roads in the rural municipality and across the rivers but there are no bridges to connect them to the wider road network,” said Rai. “The rural municipality also has its own ambulance. But since there is no bridge over the Arun river, the ambulance remains mostly unused.”
Bhupalraj Mewahang, chairman of the rural municipality, says for an absence of motorable bridges over the two rivers, locals have succumbed to easily treatable ailments and injuries.
According to Mewahang, talks about building a motorable bridge over the Arun river started in 2013 when a Detailed Project Report (DPR) was prepared at the initiative of Congress MP Taraman Gurung, who was elected from Sankhuwasabha-2 in the second Constituent Assembly election in 2013. “However, the DPR was scrapped in 2018 when UML MP Rajendra Gautam was elected,” said Mewahang. “Plans are afoot to build a bridge over the Arun river at Chabbise Ghat. In 2021, the contract to construct a bridge over the Arun river was awarded to Sanjivani Shankar construction company but the company did not work properly. The contract was scrapped and was given to Mahabir Construction company in July this year. But the construction company has yet to start work.”
After several discussions, meetings and planning since 2018, the foundation stone for the construction of a motorable bridge over the Sankhuwa river was laid on November 15. The deadline for the completion of the bridge is 2024, according to the agreement signed between the Silichong Rural Municipality and Kunsali Construction company.
“I hope the bridge will be completed on time. Lack of political will for infrastructure development in the villages has made the construction of the bridges impossible,” said Rai from Bala.
The locals say they cannot stress enough the need for motorable bridges over the rivers. “If Silichong and other local units are to be connected to the national road network, building motorable bridges over the Sankhuwa river is a must,” said Ram Bahadur Kulung, a resident of Silichong-3. “We will have access to hospitals, markets, schools and markets. It will change our lives for the better.”