The Pizhala island near Kochi, which has a population of over 40,000 people, is almost nine kilometers away from Kochi city and 650 metres from Moolampilly, a well-connected island in Ernakulam. For years, the residents of the island have been depending on two makeshift ferries to access Kochi city via Moolampilly. And so, they heaved a sigh of relief when the Pizhala-Moolampilly bridge was finally constructed in November 2018, despite almost a five-year delay. But, something was amiss. It has been lying unused for months, due to lack of approach roads to the bridge.
The construction work for the approach road or the connectivity bridge was just inaugurated on Tuesday, by Vypeen MLA S Sarma. But according to members of Pizhala Karamutikkal Samara Samithi, which was at the forefront of the protests against the delay in the construction of the bridge, the inauguration of the approach road’s construction was nothing but a booster for the coming elections.
The construction of the approach road was inaugurated by Vypeen MLA S Sharma
While the Pizhala-Moolampilly bridge was built at a cost of Rs 81 crore, Rs 14 crore has been sanctioned for the construction of 104-meter-long approach road.
A wait that never ends
Pizhala island, which is surrounded by water on all sides, is the part of Kadamakkudy panchayat of Ernakulam district. With only a primary school and primary health centre at the island, the residents have been depending on the ferry service to commute to the mainland to reach schools, colleges, workplace, hospitals and to transport their vehicle across.
Cries of the islanders for proper connectivity is years-old. In 2013, the Goshree Islands Development Authority (GIDA), a government agency for the development of Kochi City Region, started the construction of the Pizhala-Moolampilly bridge, giving hope to the residents of the island. However, GIDA and Kerala State Construction Corporation Limited, which implements the project, received criticisms over the delay in completing the bridge.
The bridge remained half-constructed for over five years. The residents organised several protests over the delay of the construction of the bridge. But soon after the bridge was constructed, the resident took out a protest again, this time, for an approach road.
It was only after this that the authorities realised that there should be an approach road to connect the bridge with the land.
“What is the logic behind constructing a bridge without approach road?” asks Maglin, president of Pizhala Karamutikkal Samara Samithi. “It was after many protests by the people and intervention of district administration that GIDA finally started the construction of the approach road. No MLA or panchayat officials backed us when we were protesting,” he told TNM.
Residents of Pizhala Island are at their wits’ end receiving empty promises every time they conducted protests for proper connectivity. “Whenever we conduct some protest over this issue, the authorities concerned would only say - ‘the work will be completed soon’. We don’t want such promises again; we want to see results, a usable bridge that connects the island to the mainland,” Sojan, another member of Pizhala Karamutikkal Samara Samithi, told TNM.
“Last week, both of the makeshift ferries suffered glitches at the same time. With no other way to commute, it is extremely difficult for us during these times,” Maglin said, adding, “We have lost several lives during medical emergencies just because we could not transport the patients to hospital on time. A few years ago, a pregnant woman lost her life as we could not take to hospital. It was late-night and there are no ferry services after 8.30 pm here.”
A protest with a solution
According to the district administration, the construction of the approach road will take another eight months to complete. Until then, the Islanders will have to continue depending on two makeshift ferry services installed by Kadamakkudy panchayat for commutation.
However, they have decided not to wait any longer. In order to register their protest with the officials, and in the hope to enable speedy construction of the approach road, the residents have decided to crowdsource funds to build a temporary thoroughfare that will connect the island with the bridge.
“We have received permission from the Kerala State Construction Corporation Limited to build a temporary connecting road. We will ensure this will not pose any hindrance to the ongoing works,” said Maglin.
This, the residents hope, will instil a sense of guilt among the officials. “Unless we get proper connectivity, we will continue with various forms of protest,” added Sojan.