Villagers, students risk their lives to reach destinations

Nishikant Khajuria
LATTI-DUDU, July 4: Even after more than 70 years since independence, thousands of villagers around 30 km long mountainous belt from Pattangarh up to Shiv Gali in tehsil Latti of Udhampur district, are still deprived of basic facilities of life and road connectivity.
Besides no electricity supply and health facilities, villagers of these hamlets from Pattangarh to Chappad and Sandh Badyal to Chounthal upto Shiv Gali in Dudu have to travel on foot for miles together to reach foot bridge for crossing Tawi river, which separates this belt from Latti mainland.
The 30 km long belt from Pattangarh to Dudu, surrounded by towering peaks on Ramnagar side and Tawi river besides Kirkiri Nallah towards Latti, has only three footbridges for crossing the ravine with flowing water.
For using these footbridges, situated at Sillar, Doana near Chapper and Serdi (between Jakhed and Dudu), some inhabitants of this belt have to travel around five kilometers and then cross the Tawi river for their requirements, including medical aid and school education.
For example, students of Malas village have to first reach Sillar bridge at Chapper and then cross over to the Tawi for studying at Higher Secondary School Latti. Chapper has only a Middle School and Malas has Primary School,
Even as the Health Sub-centre at Chapper was established around 25 years ago, it was being run by a Safai-Karamchari till last year when he superannuated from the Government service. Now, a Female Multi-Purpose Health Worker (FMPHW) has been deputed there but she comes occasionally to the Sub-Centre, alleged the locals.
To avoid long traveling for crossing over the nallah through only these three footbridges, the villagers at some points have put long wooden logs resting on two ends of the ravine and use the same to come to other side though risking their lives.
Last year a class 12th girl student was washed away in the nallah at Panchond while coming back from the school in Latti. Earlier to this, two girl students besides a mother-son due had also drowned while using wooden logs as foot bridge for crossing the Tawi.
Pertinent to mention here that the entire belt from Pattangarh to Chappad and Sandh Badyal to Chounthal up to Shiv Gali is inhabited purely by Gaddi tribe, a Scheduled Tribe community, which has negligible representation in the Government.
Panchond has a population of around 5000 souls and the area comes under two Assembly segments- Chenani and Ramnagar. For months, this entire area remains cut off from the mainland because of snow at Gulli Top towards Ramnagar and floods in Tawi during rainy season, explained Kasturi Lal Gupta, a prominent local of Latti and social activist.
According to Ishar Dass, ex Sarpanch Panchond, the area had only a single footbridge to cross over Tawi at Kokani, which was washed away in 1988. Following the incidents of drowning while crossing the nallah in absence of any footbridge, then Additional Deputy Commissioner Udhampur, Avni Lavasa had personally visited the spot on the instruction of then Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary and submitted a proposal for foot bridge to facilitate the villagers for crossing over the nallah. “But the proposal did not materialize into action since then,” rued Beant Gupta, ex-Sarpanch of Chapper, adding that from 1988 to 2014, Tawi claimed lives of 14 persons, who drowned while crossing it.
Fed up with callous approach of the Government administration, the locals on the initiatives of Headmaster Khem Chand from Jakhed, who was posted at Panchond, a foot bridge was raised at Kokani from their own resources and money contributed by them two years back.
However, this foot bridge also got washed away in the flash flood on last Friday morning thus once again cutting off Panchond area from the mainland with the result that locals, including students, are now forced to travel either 14 kms towards Seri or 10 kms towards Doana for using the available footbridges and cross over Tawi to reach Latti.
Under the prevailing situation, the locals are left with no option other than to risk their lives for reaching destinations while the administration seems waiting for more casualties to take up the grievances of these people.