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139 bridges built: Way to go, Girish

Aftab H. Kola/Mangaluru
Filed on August 29, 2020 | Last updated on August 29, 2020 at 11.30 pm
Girish Bharadwaj, Bridgeman of India, Pathanjali Bharadwaj
Girish has won many accolades and awards, the most significant one being the Padma Shri conferred on him in 2017.

For three decades, Girish Bharadwaj has been constructing bridges mostly in southern India that connect the mainland to remote and inaccessible, sequestered villages and hamlets

Dearth of easy connectivity to isolated villages has been a major impediment to development in India. However, there have been a handful of passionate people in the country, who with the single-minded purpose of uplifting the lives of the village poor, have dedicated their lives to building hanging bridges for enabling rural connectivity.

One such passionate soul is Girish Bharadwaj,70, who, you wouldn't believe, has been, for the last 30 years, constructing such bridges (139 so far) mostly in southern India that connect the mainland to remote and inaccessible, sequestered villages and hamlets.

Today, in these times of pandemic, the hanging foot-bridges built by Girish and his team for rural connectivity are proving to be a godsend for the people in regions punctuated with thick forest cover, in places where there are rivers that swell during the monsoons, and in areas where there are virtually no pathways, and are hence cut off from the mainland.  Girish was born to an agriculturist, B. K. Bhat, in Aramburu, Karnataka. And the bridges he has constructed can now be found scattered across several states.

His journey along this path began in August 1989. The first venture was an 87x0.9-metre hanging foot-bridge across the Payaswini river at Aramburu in Aletty village of Sullia taluk in Dakshina Kannada. This bridge is still being used. Of course, it has had to undergo some repairs from time to time. Now a new big RCC bridge is being constructed parallel to this for easy vehicular movement.

Not by choice

It was never a career he had opted for! A mechanical engineer by qualification, Girish wasn't lucky with the job he had initially obtained. So, on his father's advice he set up a workshop under the name Ayasshilpa in his native village that repaired farm machinery, undertook general steel fabrication works, made pre-cast concrete products and constructed suspension foot-bridges. Reminisces Girish: "It was a need that prompted me at first, and then the confidence that the people in the village showed in my abilities carried me along." Former president APJ Abdul Kalam's words that "physical communication between two places paves way for development", further motivated him to build bridges between places and people.   

Funding was not easy, the 'Bridgeman of India' says. "The first bridge was patronised by the villagers themselves for which I did not take a single penny. Initially, the government, recognising my efforts, did fund, but later the construction procedure was channelised through the bidding procedure. We, however, demanded only the cost value.

"It was the realisation that villagers need to be connected to the mainland in order to survive which had driven my consciousness. The love and gratitude that they showered on us made me not charge anything for the design, site investigation, etc. Being a mechanical engineer, designing such structures came naturally to me. I was also guided by professors of some engineering colleges in our district whenever I had doubts about certain designs. Now, my son Pathanjali Bharadwaj, who is an M Tech (Civil), designs them and oversees all the works under my guidance. I am now retired."

How costly are they?

Asked about the average cost to erect a bridge, he said: "The cost depends on the span, width, lifespan-sought (the materials will be chosen accordingly), design-load and site conditions. Thus, it may range from Rs25,000/RMT to Rs200,000/RMT."

Asked what innovation or improvement he had brought about into the construction of these bridges over the years, he said: "Improvements in terms of load-carrying capacity, life span, safety, economy, provision for two-wheeler movement, etc., have been incorporated."

"These days there is much demand for constructing hanging bridges for tourism purposes. Currently, we are working on a bridge on the Laknavaram Lake, a spectacular waterbody located in Jayshankar-Bhupalpally district of Telangana," he said.

Padma award winner

Girish has won many accolades and awards, the most significant one being the Padma Shri conferred on him in 2017. He feels that there is an urgent need for hanging bridges in states like Odisha, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh where commuting from remote places to the mainland is quite taxing.

Summing up, the Bridgeman said: "Our bridges have helped in empowering poor villagers, often connecting them to the world of opportunities."

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