Bridges Of Trivandrum-I: Kundamankadavu, Bridging Times
It's the oldest bridge in the city. People fight for a new one. After two dharnas, next is a human chain on Feb-10. Even as everyone wants a new bridge, they hold the old one dear to their heart. | By Cris Seetha
On Jan 15, 2011


Long, long ago people who came from the Vilappil village had to take the long route to cross the Karamana river to reach the other side. That was before the days of the Kundamankadavu Bridge. It is King Sreemoolam Thirunal Rama Varma who realised the need for a bridge across the river. So he initiated the building of the bridge, which was taken up by the British, 113 years ago.

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Kundamankadavu Bridge

“In those days, it was only an occasional bullock cart that went across. They didn’t foresee the kind of vehicles that would use the bridge in the years to come,” says 79-year-old Sukumaran Nair, who has lived in Kundamankadavu all his life. Selling ‘vazhappindi’ at one end of the bridge, Sukumaran Nair is believed to know more about the place than anyone else.

“It is after that vehicles carrying wood from Thoothukkudy, and other goods from Tamil Nadu started coming. One vehicle would itself weigh so much. The bridge did not have the capacity to bear that kind of weight,” he says. There is a board before you enter the bridge that cautions you against allowing more than nine tonnes of weight over the bridge.

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Sukumaran Nair, next to his 'vazhappindi' collection

“It is just metal pipes welded underneath. The bridge is tarred over it. When water falls, the metal sheets would corrode. So many accidents have happened here. Deaths too,” Sukumaran says, sadly.

Aji Jose, assistant engineer, PWD, says: “It is the age of the bridge (113 years) that has made it so fragile. The tender formalities for the new bridge have been completed. However the land needed for the new bridge has not yet been brought under the PWD. That is why we have the delay.”

M Sreekumaran Nair, veterinary practitioner, who lives in the neighbourhood, says: “The materials used to build the bridge are from England. From the time it was built till recently, there was no restriction. It is recently they came up with the restriction of nine tonnes. There are six pipes on either side of the bridge for the water from the bridge to fall. All of these pipes have now corroded. This may be the only bridge that is built with no support in the middle.”

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The warning board restricting the load on the bridge to 9 tonnes

“The bridge and the road beneath were at different levels. They kept tarring this space and now it is at the same level. The weight of all this tar has weakened the age-old bridge. Recently I observed that the roots of the Urakkamthoongi maram on the other side of the bridge have spread over the base of the bridge,” adds Sreekumaran Nair. “I am a collector of antiques. I wish they would retain the old bridge because it is a historic treasure.”

K Sasidharan Nair, who runs a hardware shop, says: “The PWD used to do a yearly maintenance of the bridge, but for seven to eight years now, it is only maintenance for sake.”
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Sreekumaran Nair, with Sasidharan Nair at his shop

Sreekumari and Priya, who live on the other side of the bridge, tell about the everyday troubles they face. “Every day there would be a traffic block, making it difficult for our children to go to school on time. They have fixed a traffic signal here but people seldom follow it. You can see bikes and cars speeding, crossing the red light,” says Sreekumari.

She adds: “They laid the foundation stone for the new bridge almost a year ago. Nothing has been done so far. We - the residents here - have protested, held dharnas for the new bridge. Next step, I say all the women and children here should come out to protest.”

Two dharnas were held under the initiative of the Kundamankadavu East Residents Association (KERA). John Franklin, president of KERA, says: “Two years ago, we submitted a memorandum to the government for the building of the new bridge. When the response was delayed, we held dharnas. The first one was by KERA and the residents here on Aug. 15, 2007. For the second one held a year later, we had the support of political leaders as well. Next, there will be a human chain by the Marxist party, from Malayinkeezhu to Kundamankadavu, in February.”

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John Franklin, president of KERA

A new group was formed to address the issue. Called ‘Action Council’, it is formed by three residents’ associations. James, chairman of Action Council, says: “The Action Council is formed by the residents’ associations of Vilappil, Malayinkeezhu and Vilavoorkal. A resolution passed by 12 panchayats for a new bridge was submitted to the government. The minister approved the sanction for a fund of Rs.9.90 crore. The administrative sanction allotting funds came on 2-3-2009, the gazette notice on 13-10-2010 and the government order to acquire land on 12-8-2010.”

He adds: “The land for the new bridge had to be acquired. We have received consent from all the land owners, except one. It is owned by Samuel who lives abroad. Thomas Abraham, a scientist, is the person who speaks to us on Samuel’s behalf.”

“We are only happy to surrender the land for the bridge, but there should be a letter from the revenue authorities,” says Thomas Abraham. “Will anyone be ready to give up their land before that? The land Samuel owns comes to 17 cents.”

Even as everyone wants and fights for a new bridge, they hold the old one dear to their heart. It has been here before the time of their grandfathers and grandmothers. It is a treasure, a heritage symbol they want secured. But the new one is just as important. A material treasure may be replaced, but what comes first is human life. Let’s hope no careless delay from one would bring harm to another.

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