A new bridge on the Sone has bridged an age-old gap and changed the life of former daily wage earner Ahmed and his ilk, whose earnings used to ebb and flow like the river in this investment-starved Bihar district.
Today, he drives a tempo and makes a steady income of around Rs 8,000 a month ferrying passengers across this fickle tributary of the Ganga notorious for its monsoon floods.
The bridge opened three years ago and unlocked new livelihood options for people in Ahmed’s village, Sahar, across the river from the district town of Arwal. “I ferry at least 50-60 people every day. People returning home from Delhi now come to Arwal and take the bridge,” he says as a dozen other tempo drivers look on.
The same story repeats across the river in Arwal, where the bustling market has seen a traffic and business boom in the past few years. “We go to Arwal market to get our veggies instead of spending long hours travelling to Arrah, around 45km away,” says Kalifulla, a bicycle repairman.
The river used to separate the Bhojpuri and Magahi-speaking regions until the bridge came along. “Earlier, no one would want to marry into this village because it was remote. This has changed,” says Kumar, a shopkeeper, although upset about the little progress the area has made other than the bridge.
The approach roads to the bridge are merely a kilometre long and on the Sahar side they disappear soon into dirt tracks. While the ride on the 2km bridge is smooth, the pathetic state of NH-110 in the area ensures the economic gap remains.
The region votes on Friday and while people credit chief minister Nitish Kumar with solving their transport woes, they say the promised economic development never came.
It’s the same story across Bihar, where several big-ticket projects have proved to be a partial success because of scant attention to secondary development.
Unplanned development has devastated incomes of many people tied to Sone. The thriving ghat and shops are all but gone, leaving small businessmen and boatmen staring at a bleak future.
“We were 60-70 households who’d operate small boats and ferries across the river. The bridge has taken away our income. We now barely make Rs 100 a day loading sand trucks,” says Lakhan Choudhury, a boatman.
Many of them have taken to fishing, but the catch is poor on a river that has its water locked upstream at Singrauni.