The promise to illuminate Gandhi Setu notwithstanding, the crucial bridge linking north Bihar to the state capital is still in the dark.
Over the past five months, the defunct streetlights have turned the 5.575-km bridge into a dark alley for commuters, endangering their lives. Several diversions because of the ongoing repair work have compounded the risk for those using it.
On December 3, 2012, The Telegraph (see graphic) had reported about the non-functional streetlights on the bridge. Road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav had then pledged corrective steps at the earliest.
Later, the department decided to install solar energy-powered streetlights on the bridge under the corporate social responsibility initiative of Bihar State Road Development Corporation, an undertaking of the department. But the ground situation remained the same.
Minister Yadav on Tuesday told The Telegraph: "The department has initiated steps on the proposal and we are awaiting a nod from the Union government to start the corresponding work."
D.N. Prasad, chief engineer, national highways wing and project management unit of the state government, told The Telegraph: "The proposal of installing solar-powered lights needs financial approval of the Bihar State Road Development Corporation Limited, which is chaired by the development commissioner. We are expecting to table the proposal at the next meeting of the board, which is expected within a week. Corresponding tenders would be floated soon after and if things fall in order, work may start within a month."
On an average, over 25,000 heavy vehicles pass through the bridge daily. The drivers of those crossing the bridge during night hours often face a harrowing experience because of the dysfunctional streetlights.
Recalling the number of close shaves he had on the bridge, Guddu, a taxi driver based in the state capital, said: "Quite often, I take Gandhi Setu while travelling to Muzaffarpur or to Chhapra. But I am forced to drive my vehicle dead slow at night because the bridge is pitch dark. Though I have never met with any accident on the bridge, which is damaged in portions, I had quite a few close shaves."
Several others have met with accidents too.
"I was coming from my native place at Vaishali on my bike with a friend riding pillion last December. The sun had set by the time we reached Gandhi Setu. I was driving at a moderate speed when suddenly I spotted a big pothole in the light of my bike's headlamp. Trying to avoid it, I lost control over my bike and fell. The headlamp was smashed and the handbar tilted. We suffered minor bruises," said Ravi Kumar, a resident of SK Nagar.
On August 10, 2012, the Centre accepted the state government's proposal of discontinuing the practice of collecting toll from vehicles using Gandhi Setu.
Earlier, Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam Limited was in charge of toll collection, a part of which used to go to the Centre, while a portion of the rest was supposed to be used for operation and maintenance of the bridge lights. After toll collection was suspended, there was no money to maintain the lamps.