Connected by a thread Story of Arai Malikan village

Yaar Mohammad Tantre
Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has reached every nook and corner of the country enabling connectivity between some of the most far-flung, remote villages with cities. The existence of these roads is considered a mark of development and is believed to open more avenues for the rural communities. But what we fail to comprehend is the interconnection between different domains of infrastructure. In a hilly region, what good are roads if there is no bridge connecting them?
Arai Malikan is one such village in Mandi block of border district Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir residents of which have been living a disconnected life for several decades now. Connecting Arai Malikan to rest of the block and the district is a weak tin bridge that dangles between Arai Malikan and Arai Haveli. In 2014, under the PMGSY, a road was constructed in Arai Malikan that stretches 7 kms upto Arai Morian hamlet, and another 3kms of excavation has been completed up till another hamlet called Taragarh.But lack of a proper bridge to connect this village with the rest of the block had rendered these roads useless.
This narrow tin bridge over the River Mandi can collapse any moment and can potentially jeopardize many lives. Hafiz Abdul Rahim Malik,32, a resident of the village, while reflecting upon the difficulties faced by the locals said, “We walk a distance of nearly three kms upto the bridge and have to cross it to access any transportation. As the bridge is not strong enough, no vehicles or ambulance can cross it to reach our village.”Talking about the accessibility of medical services, he added, “If someone gets sick, 8 to 10 people are needed to carry the patient over their shoulders to the road. On several occasions, patients have lost their lives including pregnant women while on their way to health centres.”
Absence of a strong bridge has several implications as it affects the socio-economic development of the inhabitants of this village. Especially for girls, it has become a barrier to pursue quality education. The Central Administration has successfully inaugurated several schemes and campaigns to promote girls’education, but several factors like absence of roads, bridges, transportation etc. influence their application on the ground. The centre has launched the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, which has improved the status of girls’ education in the country. However, in Arai Malikan,girl students have to trek on tricky mountainous trails to access transportation to reach their schools and colleges, which often forces parents to discontinue their education as they worry about their safety. A fewer, privileged ones manage to send their children to other cities but not everyone is that lucky – they need the bridge.
As the bridge is not strong enough, several accidents have also been reported. Recently, a couple with their child met with an accident while crossing the bridge on a motorcycle. “The wife and the daughter fell from the motorcycle to the river and suffered serious injuries while the husband managed to escape unhurt,” informed, Haji Muhammad Akram, 65, a local from the village.
The local authorities in the village are certainly making an effortby pushing the concerned departments to construct a strong bridge. As informed by Muhammad Aslam Malik, the Sarpanch of Arai Malikan, several attempts have been made to meet the Deputy Commissioner of Poonch and Senior Officials of Public Works Department (PWD) regarding this issue but to no avail. Harindar, an official of the PWD informed that a proposal to construct the bridge has been submitted. “As soon as the project is approved,we will start the construction in the beginning of 2023,” he said.
Well, until then, we shall wait!
(The author is a rural writer from Poonch. )
(Charkha Features)