Baitadi villagers risk life crossing Mahakali river to reach Indian townsIn the absence of a bridge, local residents use boats and tyre tubes to cross the Mahakali river and buy daily essentials and get medical treatment in India.
Residents of several local units in Baitadi, a hill district in Sudurpaschim Province, rely on Indian towns across the Mahakali river to get their daily essentials and medical treatment.
“The cost of reaching Indian towns is Rs 300 per day and we can make the return journey in a couple of hours. But if we go to the Baitadi district headquarters, we have to spend Rs 2,000 just on bus fare and it takes us an entire day to reach there and return,” said Shankar Singh Saud, a resident of Shivanath Rural Municipality-1. “That’s why crossing the Mahakali river and going to Indian towns is a better option for us despite the risks involved.”
On Wednesday, a 12-year-old girl died while her eight-year-old brother went missing when a boat capsized in the Mahakali river near Nagarjun in Shivanath-1.
But despite the risks, the local people continue to make risky journeys on boats and tyre tubes across the Mahakali because goods are cheaper and services more accessible on the Indian side. According to Saud, the locals are also heavily reliant on Indian towns to get health facilities.
“We go to India to buy medicines and get treatment. Indian towns are nearer than any Nepali town. Seeking medical treatment in India is also cheaper for us than going to health facilities in the district headquarters,” said Mina Chad of Shivanath-1.
“We wouldn’t go to India if we got the same health facilities in our villages and goods at competitive prices in the local markets. But buying things and seeking treatment in Nepal is very costly for us,” said Dipendra Chand of Shivanagar.
According to him, many people die crossing the river every year.
The local residents say the authorities have left them with no choice but to risk their lives on flimsy boats and tyre tubes to cross the Mahakali river in the absence of suspension bridges in the area.
“The local residents cross the swollen river on boats and tubes. It is very dangerous, especially during the monsoon,” said Gorakh Bahadur Chand, the chairman of Pancheshwar Rural Municipality.
The federal government had signed an agreement with a construction company to install a suspension bridge across the Mahakali river in Pancheshwar four years ago. But work on the bridge could not start, as the Indian side refused to give permission to build the bridge.
“The construction of the bridge did not even start. When we inquired about the project delay in Kathmandu, it was learnt that the Indian government did not give permission for the construction, citing that the proposed site is the submerged area of the proposed Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project,” said chairman Chand. “Since then, no initiative has been taken by the federal government to install a bridge over the Mahakali river.”