About 2,000 people living in a cluster of nine villages across the Ravi on the Indo-Pak border have been left in a lurch following Border Security Force's decision to remove pontoon bridge on the river.
The hapless residents, already struggling in the absence of proper road connectivity, electricity, potable water supply besides health facilities, are now dependent on a boat as the only mode to cross the Ravi.
Every year, during the monsoon season, when the water level starts rising in the river, BSF personnel remove the pontoon bridge, which leaves the residents of Ghanie-Ke-Bet, Laluwal, Gurchakk, Purana Valah, Kassowal, Saran, Saran Rajji, Kolei Dholie and Mansoor village with only a single boat to commute across the water body.
Though two motorboats are also available to cross the river, these are used by BSF personnel only.
Living largely in mud houses, the villagers would face problems in transporting items of daily need, vehicles and animals while crossing the river. Sometimes, they have to wait for two-three hours for the boat to ferry them.
The villagers also rue lack of other infrastructure. Owing to acute shortage of electricity, farmers have to depend on costly diesel, which has to be transported almost every day during the sowing season.
The lone government elementary school, which is situated in a gurdwara building, is lying defunct due to lack of teachers and other staff for the last many years. People have to travel 18 km every day, after crossing the river, to drop their children at Dera Baba Nanak school.
The medical staff hardly pays a visit to the civil dispensary and veterinary hospital, as doctors and other staff are not willing to wait for hours to cross the river.
"Our entry to our homes from across the river is confined between 7am and 7pm and we are frisked each time we return from the other side. Sometimes, we even doubt if we are citizens of India," said a farmer Satnam Singh, who has 10 acres of land on the other side of the Ravi.
Octogenarian Harbant Singh from Ghanie-Ke-Bet village said, "We are completely dependent on the boat to meet our basic necessities. No labourer is willing to work in our fields during the sowing season, so we have to pay them 50% extra."
He added that though they face the problem every year, successive governments have failed to take appropriate steps to provide them relief.
"Look at our plight and conditions under which we live. Do we look like part of India," asked another villager Jaswant Singh of Ghanie-Ke-Bet.