Longing for a Footbridge

I have never believed in superstitious ideas, but the way construction of a small low cost steel footbridge connecting a beautiful playground with the main land has been delayed for almost 50 years, it sometimes makes me believe that it a matter of being cursed! Every year Government spends billions of rupees on developmental works in J&K but I can’t understand why authorities at the helm are not able to spend mere Rs 10 to 15 lakhs on a steel footbridge? In remote and inaccessible areas of Budgam district or far off places like Kishtwar or Kupwara, blacktopped roads and huge bridges were constructed during last two decades, but on the other hand a long pending public demand of around 30 to 40 villages and towns around Wathoora is not fulfilled by the Government.

Location & Topography

At a time when we are losing playgrounds and green spaces in villages and towns due to massive urbanization, a 100 kanal Kah Charai land is still protected by the local youth of Wathoora, a semi-urbanized locality in Srinagar outskirts in district Budgam. Wathoora is only 11 kms from Srinagar city center and just 5 to 6 kms from many uptown posh colonies like Rawalpora, Chanapora, Hyderpora etc. Cricketers from most of these areas, and even Srinagar old city continue to play cricket at Wathoora. The problem with this cricket ground is that it is an Island and has no direct access through a road. On the other hand the ground has many advantages as well like better water absorption capacity and being safe from land grabbers etc. On the front side of the ground (eastern area) we have Doodh Ganga, and towards its south we have Shali Ganga which joins Doodh-Ganga near the southern tail of this ground. There are some irrigation canals and Khuls towards the north and eastern side of the ground. Cricket lovers enter this play ground through Shahpora locality of Wathoora which is located on Srinagar-Chadoora – Charare Sharief road.

Entering the cricket ground

Having spent my childhood near this cricket ground, I, along with many village kids would swim in Doodh Ganga locally called Chaz Kull. We would take a sunbath on its banks connecting the ground which had a lot of clean sand until 10-15 years back. As a kid, on Sundays and holidays, I would often carry a lunch box from home for my uncles, playing cricket across. When I grew up I also played cricket on this ground which is locally known as Watal Waen. Although I was not a good cricketer, I loved the game and always tried my best to get a bridge constructed when I grew up. I never succeeded till date. Today my 9 year old son is asking me why there is not a permanent bridge so that he could go across and play cricket or football? Same question my father, my uncles and myself have raised in the past?

PIC: AUTHOR

Local residents tried a lot to ensure construction of a bridge but at the last moment something happens and work never gets executed. Almost 45 to 50 years back when the professional cricket was introduced in our area, people, especially local youth would construct a makeshift wooden bridge ( 30 to 40 feet long) to help players and spectators go into the ground. This has been a so for the last many decades.

When the water level in Chaz Kull rises during summer rains, the makeshift wooden bridge  gets washed away and that is the most tragic time for those youth who make best use of their skills, time, and energy erecting the makeshift-bridge.  It takes lots of effort to get a new makeshift bridge installed. Every year at least 5 to 6 makeshift bridges are constructed at Wathoora which get washed away when water level in Doodh Ganga goes up. Another way to enter the playground is to walk a kilometer of a distance from Shahpora, Wathoora main road and reach a small hamlet Banhaar and then cross small canals and enter the ground from its northern side.

Drowning incidents

The absence of a permanent foot bridge is not only frustrating the sports lovers, morning walkers or joggers but several cricketers and locals have been drowned in Doodh Ganga river while they tried to cross the river by wading through it. During the last 10-15 years at least 3 to 4 persons died while crossing the river thinking that water level was less. Some years back a cricketer from Srinagar got drowned when he was chasing a cricket ball that went into Doodh Ganga. He died on the spot.

Assurances in B 2 V

During the Back to Village-I (B2V-I) programme, June 26-27 2019, a large number of officers had come to Wathoora. Mr Sarmad Hafeez, a high ranking Govt officer and Secretary Youth Services and Sports was the designated Visiting Officer for Wathoora. I am quoting his words when he addressed a gathering of locals and sportsmen on day II of B 2 V programme while inaugurating a cricket match:

“I am leaving highly inspired. The stadium of this size and beauty is something that caught my eyes. We will definitely work to encash its size and beauty to develop it. So I would request the concerned DC to handover this stadium to the Youth services and sports department,”

Mr Sarmad Hafiz, along with DG Youth Services and Sports, Saleem Ur Rehman were mesmerized by the beauty of the playground. The officer on the spot directed for construction of a steel footbridge. Rural Development Department (RDD) was to take up the project.  It has been more than a year, nothing has happened. I reminded Mr Hafeez many times but that didn’t help. Ironically, that the guy who constructed the wooden makeshift bridge that day on the request of local BDO has not been paid his dues by District Administration till date.

Conclusion

People who began demanding a foot bridge in the late 1970s and early 80s are now old. Now their grandsons and grand-daughters are urging authorities to fulfill the promise. I, along with many local friends have been trying our best to highlight the issue for the last 15 years or more. Recently I posted the pics of the youth constructing the makeshift bridge on social media, with the aim that it would shake the conscience of authorities. The Deputy Commissioner Budgam never ever responded back, not even to the whatsApp messages. Under the Khelo India programme so many stadiums were built during the last 4 to 5 years but Wathoora continues to be deprived. We don’t want an International stadium which would restrict entry of local sportsmen into the ground, instead we need a small footbridge which is our long cherished demand..

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement