Udupi: Inadequate repair and construction of footbridges in the rural areas of coastal twin districts, has raised public safety concerns, especially for school students. Despite the submission of reports detailing footbridge requirements to the Zilla Panchayat, the situation remains largely unaddressed, even as another rainy season approaches.
The need for immediate action was highlighted following a tragic incident on August 8, 2022, where a second-class child fell from a footbridge and drowned in the Kalthodu Gram Panchayat of Byndoor Taluk in Udupi District. Subsequently, the district administrations of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi instructed the Panchayat Development Officers (PDOs) of all Gram Panchayats to identify footpaths requiring repairs, new footbridge constructions, and footbridges regularly used by students. The PDOs compiled a comprehensive list, which was duly submitted to the Zilla Panchayat. However, the construction of new footbridges has not progressed as expected.
In Dakshina Kannada District, 55 out of 338 footbridges deemed dangerous have undergone repairs, but no new footbridges have been constructed. Similarly, in Udupi District, none of the 567 planned new footbridges have been completed.
The delay is attributed to funding constraints, as the work is being carried out under NAREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) without immediate allocation of funds for equipment. Nevertheless, the sources in the Zilla Panchayat claim that approximately 800 footpaths have been repaired and restored to good condition.
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Approximately 8,220 families, including an estimated 5,108 students, rely on the footbridges in Udupi District. In Dakshina Kannada, the Gram Panchayats reported that around 3,136 students travel through 55 dangerous footbridges. With the new academic year beginning, the number of students using the footbridges is expected to rise.
Furthermore, the condition of several check dams in both districts is deteriorating. It is crucial that the planks of the dams are removed before the rainy season to ensure unobstructed water flow. However, most of the check dams are improperly boarded up and filled with soil, hindering effective water storage. Additionally, the safety fences attached to these have been broken, rendering the paths perilous for villagers during the rainy season.
Dr Kumara and Prasanna H, the CEOs of DK and Udupi Zilla Panchayats respectively said that instructions will be issued to all schools, emphasizing the safety of students and urging heightened precautions. The repair of dangerous footpaths has been addressed but there has been a delay in the construction of new footbridges, they added.