On Monday, 120 residents of Chenoor, a tiny island hamlet near mainland Kochi waded neck deep into the Periyar river while holding placards and posters that read 'build Chenoor bridge at once'. The protestors grabbed on to a rope with one hand and held the placards with the other. A few of them even floated in the water while balancing the placards. All the while, a thousand others looked on from the river banks.
This agitation by Chenoor's folks was for better road connectivity in their tiny island hamlet, a demand that has remained unfulfilled for 14 years now. The building of the Chenoor-Kothad bridge, which would solve Chenoor's connectivity issues, was promised by the Oommen Chandy-led UDF government back in 2005.
"We are one of the few islands in Kadamakkudy Panchayat to be isolated from the mainland. For 7 years we have actively agitating and have walked in and out of government offices to demanding the bridge. But there is still no trace of it," says KV Williams, convener of Chenoor-Kothad Bridge Action Council which organised the protest.
Williams says that promises to build the Chenoor-Kothad bridge, which would offer residents direct access to Kochi city, were made when another bridge that connected Chittoor and Kothad was being built in 2005.
In 2006, the Goshree Island Development Authority or GIDA, a government body which monitors development activities in the islands near Kochi, sanctioned the Chenoor - Kothad bridge after Vypin bridge project.
"The design of the Chenoor-Kothad bridge and a detailed estimate was approved by GIDA in 2011. Following this, the proposal even got the administrative sanction and was allotted Rs 7.5 crores. There was no conceivable hurdle after this and yet the project kept getting delayed for years," Williams added.
Today, the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. is all set to implement its ambitious Water Metro project with an underwater metro train connecting the islands to the city. But the islanders of Chenoor have been left fighting for basic road connectivity first.
"Earlier we used to have 10-12 boats that would ferry us back and forth to the mainland. But with other island hamlets getting bridges, the boat services have slowly dwindled. Now we have to take a ferry and go to the mainland and their services end by 9:30 pm, which means we have to take a 9 km detour via Varapuzha if we get late. The government must ensure road connectivity before moving on to ambitious projects such as underwater trains," Williams said.
Elsewhere in Kadamakkudy, another island hamlet called Pizhila faces similar issues. But unlike Chenoor, Pizhila suffers from a half constructed bridge connecting it to Moolampilly. The bridge has no landing bits which makes it difficult for people to cross over to the mainland.
"The half built Pizhila-Moolampilly bridge is 10 metres high and does not connect to the landmass on either side. This has been the state for 5 years now," said Greemson Pius, convenor of the Pizhila Kara Muttikal Samaram, an action council that has been demanding the completion of the bridge.
On Monday, the Pizhila Kara Muttikal Samaram - a group demanding the completion of the bridge - marched to the Collector's camp in Ernakulam and protested against the inordinate delay.
"The bridge was sanctioned two years ago thanks to several protests by residents here. Construction began in November 2014 and the then CM had promised that it would be completed in 18 months. However, due to several administrative hurdles, it stands incomplete. The project has crossed two deadlines and there is not yet an approach road to the bridge or a road that connects it to the village road or high way," Greamson added.
Pizhila's residents are plagued by several problems due to lack of road connectivity. And although the actual distance between the island and the mainland is 7.5 kms, lack of a bridge makes commuting to the mainland a nightmare.
"During the floods, it took 2 hours to rescue people from other parts of Kochi but we were stranded for 4 days. This is when the government sat up and took notice," says Rajalakshmi Padmanabhan, Chairperson of Pizhila Kara Muttikkal Samaram.
As for everyday concerns, those from Pizhila working in Kochi city find it hard to stay overtime as ferry services to this island also stop by 9:30 pm. Young adults too find it hard to get jobs in the city as they cannot afford to stay overtime. When it comes to medical emergencies, the situation gets worse, Greamson says.
"We had a 50-year-old lady suffer from burn marks and die last year. The incident happened late at night and it took us 1 and a half hours to get her to the hospital. Similarly, another elderly lady passed away from breathlessness as we couldn't admit her on time. We have had incidents of women giving birth in boats while being taken to the hospital," Rajalakshmi added.
Other than these two bridges, the government had promised 3 more bridges to the island hamlets of Kadamakkudy panchayat. The Pizhala-Kadamakkudy, Kadamakkudy-Chathanadu and Chenoor-Karyanthuruthu-Pizhala bridges would ensure that islands were better connected. However, all of these projects are yet to take off.
Ernakulam Collector YK Safirullah told TNM that the Pizhala-Moolampilly bridge construction was being monitored by the government on a weekly basis.
"We have seen the site and sent a proposal to the government for building the landing bits of the bridge. We are excepting that the proposal will be pushed forward. Several other projects such as drinking water supply and the inauguration of a Primary Health Centre in the village has been completed recently. The bridge construction will also be undertaken and completed as soon as possible. In the meantime, additional boat services will be deployed between Pizhala and the mainland and GIDA will take care of this," he said.