Sheikh Lalchand – The Boatman Who Built a Bamboo Bridge On a Roaring River

Recently Government of Karnataka was taken to task by citizens of Bengaluru for its idea to erect a steel bridge by chopping down trees of already greenery deprived Bengaluru city. Finally, citizens had the last laugh with their agitation yielding results as Govt. dropped the plan of constructing the exorbitantly priced bridge.

But here is a complete 180-degree shift story from the state of West Bengal, where people plead to connect their village with neighboring villages with a bridge across a river couldn’t pierce deaf ears of Govt. of Bengal and local authorities. But amazingly a Boatman whose bread-butter was earned by ferrying villagers from one bank of the river to the other became the crusader for these villagers. This boatman with his hard earned savings and loans borrowed from friends made villagers to happily commute on Bamboo Bridge constructed across the river at the cost of 7 Lakh Rupees.

Often we hold Society and System as the culprit for all evils happening around us. But this incredible human being, Mr. Shiekh Lalchand, a boatman aged 45, despite being dubbed by his villagers as an insane person to be treated at mental hospital took the onus of constructing the bridge across a River and has become darling of villages in the Ghoraberia-Chitnan gram Panchayat and Bhatora gram Panchayat in Howrah district of West Bengal.

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The Story of Bamboo Bridge Idea Deciphered

Geographically Shiekh Lalchand’s village Kulia is situated on an island formed by river Mundeswari surrounding two panchayats viz. Ghoraberia-Chitnan and Bhatora gram Panchayat. These two-gram Panchyat villagers used to ferry to Kashmuli gram panchayat on another side of river Mundeswari through country boats. Lalchand is one such boatman who used to meet his daily needs by ferrying villagers. In this profession, Lalchand had come across grievances of pregnant women, patients, aged people, school children and villagers in the emergency. He had also witnessed deaths of many pregnant women who couldn’t reach the hospital in time due to the hostile situation of the river like huge tides in rainy seasons or heavy accumulation of silt in summer making it impossible to ferry boats.

Lalchand, a kind hearted person, had spent sleepless nights thinking about the solution for passengers commuting across river MundeswariLalchand was not fully contended with such efforts as he aimed at obtaining a permanent solution for commuters of his village.

Ironically the Leftist Govt. in charge of West Bengal had visited these islands during elections of 2006 and 2011 and had laid the foundation stone for erecting a bridge and shamelessly forgotten the same after the polls. Even the local Panchayats didn’t exhibit courage and dedication to take the issue to state level leaders. Thus, the woes of people of Kulia and its neighboring villages continued.

At this juncture, Shiekh Lalchand volunteered himself to erect a bridge across the river. He went to Gram Panchayat authorities seeking their help. Many of them ridiculed him as an insane person and brushed him aside, saying “How can a single person accomplish what Govt. couldn’t”. He took criticism in his strides and decided to follow the path shown by great poet Sri. Rabindranath Tagore, through his poem, which says “Jodi tor dak sone key na ase, tale ekla cholo re.” (If no one responds to your call, then go your way alone).

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Many villagers pretended as if they are with him even if he is alone in this mission of building the bridge. But Lalchand took it with positive sense and forged ahead by obtaining the Panchayat’s permission to construct the bridge.

Amazingly a person, whose daily wages is 400 rupees, decided to sell his wife’s gold ornaments and arranged initial capital of 3 Lakhs rupees. He could persuade close friends to donate another 4 Lakhs rupees.

Mission Bamboo Bridge Started

With 7 Lakh rupees in his kitty, no one could stop Lalchand from initiating bridge construction. He went to neighboring Midnapore district to find out skilled people in bamboo bridge construction and with a relentless search for a week or so he could finally get right people for his mission.

The Bamboo Bridge construction had a quiet beginning in November 2014. A Bridge of 600m length and 2.20m width was constructed on Bamboo pillars which were inserted 10 feet deep into the riverbed. The bridge surface was constructed with 3000 bamboo logs and ropes all glued together with nuts and bolts. The entire Bridge was erected in 22 days time by 20 workers who worked day and night continuously.  The Bridge was opened to the public in January 2015 which can be used by walkers, two wheelers and light weight four wheeler like cars, thus realizing Lachand’s dream which in his own words goes like this— “Nothing is more important for me than alleviating the difficulties of my brothers and sisters of my village.”

Maintenance Phase and Recovering investment

Toll Roads of Indian National Highway Golden Quadrilateral have become familiar to all Indians. Paying Toll for using ‘Roads for Prosperity’ is common today. Lalchand also has applied the same strategy to recover back his 7 lakh investment on Bamboo Bridge. He has taken bridge maintenance lease from Gram Panchayat by paying 1.5 lakhs and has fixed different tariffs for two wheelers, four wheelers, and bicycles. The tariff chart on bridge reads like this—Rs. 2 for bicycle or foot users, Rs.5 for Two wheelers, Rs.50 for Magic IRIS Tata Vehicles, Rs. 100 for Maruti Omni cars. Today near 1 Lakh people of various villages are connected through this bridge. Local people are witnessing various benefits like a surge in realty prices of their lands, easier connectivity with the capital city Kolkata and on the social front, many villagers who were reluctant to enter into wedding relationships with these villages are now willing to do so.

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The maintenance story was not a cakewalk for Lalchand. Once the bridge collapsed, and Lalchand had to spend approximately 4 lakh rupees for repairing. This money he could arrange by mortgaging his daughter’s wedding ornaments. Along with this, he has to pay the salary for six security personnel hired to look after the bridge. The Bridge has a surveillance camera and street lights too.

Lalchand’s Next Goal

While entire village and gram Panchayat is overwhelmed with Shiekh Lalchand’s selfless efforts to realize the dream of constructing a bridge, his goals are not small. He is thinking of roping in Govt. to build a permanent bridge of steel and concrete for his villagers.

When people around us try to maximize profit utilizing the gravity of a situation, this Boatman never indulged in profiteering and his dedication to help out his brethren’s needs a salute from all of us. Kalam fan Club is proud to bring a feature on this persona.

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