A four-day hunger strike by a social activist from Maval taluka in Lonavala, demanding the construction of a bridge over the railway track has finally bore fruit, paving the way for the safety of schoolchildren who have been forced to cut across train tracks for years.

Fast pays off: Suraj Kedari, a social activist, broke his hunger strike after railways assured him that a foot overbridge will be constructed soon

Suraj Kedari, a social activist and a self-professed follower of noted activist Anna Hazare, had sat on a hunger strike from January 26 to 29, demanding the construction of a bridge so that schoolchildren from the area don’t have to put their lives at risk by crossing the tracks to attend school located on the other sideTaking note of his agitation, the railway officials handed him a letter assuring that a bridge will be constructed before October 31 this year.

“Despite sending several letters to the railway authorities requesting the construction of an over bridge, the officials took no heed and the matter was left pending for several years. As a result, I had to launch a hunger strike and after four days the authorities have finally taken a note and assured that a bridge will be constructed before the end of this year,” said Kedari.
Schoolchildren making their way to schools in the Lonavala region have been putting their lives at risk on a daily basis, as they have no option but to walk across the railway tracks. “Around 8,000 kids going to local schools in the area have to put their life in danger daily, as the existing bridge is dilapidated,” said Kedari.

Principals from the schools located in the neighbouring areas have been concerned over the safety of their students and feel that the railway authorities were not taking the matter seriously.

“There was an old bridge which broke down five years ago and has not been in use since then. The students while coming to school have to cross the railways lines on the way, which is hazardous. After bringing the matter to light before the Lonavala Municipal Council (LMC), the corporation had a word with the railway authorities and agreed to fund the project. But two years have passed since the corporation paid the amount to the railways and yet no action was taken as regards to the construction of the bridge,” said the principal of VPS high school. VPS high school is located a few kilometres from the Lonavala railway junction.

LMC speaks
LMC authorities claim that they handed over the funding amount to the railway two years ago but the railway officials took no action. “After having talks with the railway authorities, it was decided that the Lonavala Municipal Council would fund the project. The construction cost of the bridge was estimated at Rs 41 lakh, and we paid the entire amount to the railway officials nearly two years ago. But there was no further action taken by the railway authorities, even though they promised that the construction work would commence soon,” said Ganesh Shete, chief officer, LMC.

Railway speak
The railway authorities, on the other hand, are attributing the delay to the tedious process of getting projects approved by the railway department. “We had to first decide if the old bridge, which is broken-down half way, should be reconstructed or replaced with a new one. We have now decided to dismantle the old bridge and then begin the construction of the new bridge. The entire plan had to be approved by the higher authorities in the Indian railways. Discharging of the tender is a time consuming process, as it has to pass through several divisions within the railway. The project has been finally approved and we shall try our level best to complete the construction of the bridge as soon as possible,” said a senior
divisional engineer in the railways, who is in-charge of this project.