A bridge too far, not anymore

The 300-m-long structure will mitigate sufferings

A bridge too far, not anymore

Villagers decided to build the bridge as successive governments failed to respond to their requests .

They say “you are what you do, not what you say you'll do”. Punjab’s tale of a few villages proves just that. Most of the early mornings during the week, Bhajan Singh starts with cleaning his extra-large utensils before he readies big servings of dal and rice, even chapatis, for dozens of people.

Singh’s involvement with this task is not for any purpose of community kitchen or an exercise for any good fortune. He has been on it for nearly five years. The food he prepares is for a cause. It's for  volunteers who have been sweating it out each day--be it the sweltering heat or the chilly winter breeze --for years to build a bridge, all by themselves.

 Yes, it’s a full-fledged 300-metre bridge near Anandpur Sahib in this border state between Mataur and Burj villages that is being constructed essentially by  volunteers as a community initiative without any support or funding by the government. The bridge that was dreamt five years ago by people will be a reality in about two years time and more than 60 per cent of the work on the project is already done.

 It’s a bridge that would mitigate much of their sufferings, especially when it's monsoon time and the seasonal rivulet swells disrupting everything. Bouts of incessant rainfall would bring along perennial pain and discomfort.

Children of the village would often miss their school for it would require either some guts to risk and crossover to the other side, or travel more than 25 km from another route. Families would stay indoors and the nearest hospital looks faraway as patients take much longer to reach through the other route.

The one question that comes to mind is why did the people not seek the government's intervention in the first place? Well, they did, and did it for years before they finally gave up whatever little hope they were left with.

But then, it was a misery that had to be alleviated at all cost. More than anything else, funding was a major issue, Bhajan Singh said. It was a project that would need about a whopping Rs 20 crore. The motivation was somewhere close-by. Villagers sought the intervention of a former engineer-turned-social worker--Labh Singh affectionately called Kar Sewa Wala Baba (a godman inspiring  social work).

The villagers say they had been approaching successive governments for help to build a bridge  connecting them to the mainland. It didn’t help much. “When assurance and help were unsure, the village approached Baba Labh Singh.

He promised that the bridge will be constructed. The work on the bridge started about five years ago and it would be completed in about two years,” a village volunteer said.  And then started a wave of community service with utmost zeal and fervour for a cause. Villagers, including women and young lads, would step out of their houses each day, reach the construction site for any work they get to do. A team of engineers appointed by the Baba was there for all the expertise that was required for the bridge to come up.

As the cause gained momentum, more and more people pitched in for help. They would bring sand, stones and some other material from the river bed on their tractor trolleys. Only cement and some other material were procured from the market. While all this went on, Bhajan Singh’s sumptuous food made sure their energy levels didn’t dip. “Many households provide food to labour during the construction and the cost of construction was being shared by the villagers,” one villager said.

Sources said the village panchayat also contributed Rs 15 lakh for the construction of the bridge while locals would offer wheat and maize to the Baba after each harvesting as a thanksgiving gesture.

Bhajan Singh said: “I am only helping myself.” The Baba also runs a round-the-clock langar at the premier Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh. He has constructed buildings of 42 government schools in Anandpur Sahib and was awarded “Manavta Ke Masiha” award by the Punjab School Board.

There are other cases too where good Samaritan work by godmen in Punjab has made a sizeable difference. Balbir Singh Seechewal has spearheaded many ecological crusades through community participation. He cleaned up many of Punjab’s stinking and polluted rivulets that no one would even dare to come closer.

His success with Kali Bein, now a clean rivulet, flowing beside a historic Gurdwara, bears testimony to his dedication and grit. Within a few years of starting a campaign against the pollution of Punjab’s rivers, Seechewal became one of the world’s most-recognised eco-warriors. He figured among the Heroes for the Environment celebrated by Time magazine sometime ago.

During his sermons, Seechewal reiterates the message of the Sikh Gurus for environmental conservation and distributes tree saplings as Prasad. His environmental project earned appreciation from former President A P J Abdul Kalam.

The godman-turned crusader later put his energy into checking the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents into rivers. His efforts prompted people in 27 villages to dig up ponds for treating effluent and use it for agriculture purpose.     
Dera Sacha Sauda, another sect headed by godman Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, has undertaken enormous number of social drives in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

It's all done with volunteers owing allegiance to the sect’s philosophy. The sect, through its thousands of community volunteers, has cleaned townships, cities in a single day. Their name figures in the Guinness Book of World Records for donating maximum units of blood in a single day through voluntary donation.

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