A bridge too far? The story of the Kootuhole bridge in Kodagu District

Inter-state border disputes dot the landscape of India, stalling development projects, creating rifts between people and generally creating discord where there should be harmony. Indresh Coovercolly reports on how a border dispute between Kerala and Karnataka is stalling the construction of the Kootuhole Bridge near Virajpet in Kodagu District of Karnataka.

The Kerala government had taken up the work of widening and upgrading the Kannur-Kootuhole road at an estimated cost of Rs 217 crores about one year ago. The work was awarded to EKK infrastructure company, which had to complete construction of the Iritty and Kootuhole bridges. However, the state forest department objected to the construction of bridge across Kootuhole, which is about 26 kms from Virajpet at a cost of Rs 16 cr, claiming ownership of land. The Forest officials of Karnataka say that the Kerala government did not seek its permission before starting the bridge construction. Following objections, the construction of the bridge was stopped and the roadwork up to Kannur was completed. The incomplete bridge works are a huge disappointment to the locals at Kootuhole and the tourists because if the bridge were completed it would have been a boon for connectivity between Kerala, Virajpet and Mysuru. The existing bridge is in a dilapidated state as it was constructed during the British rule.

When contacted, Virajpet DCF Maria Christa Raja said that the construction of bridge cross Kootuhole is a clear violation of rights of the Karnataka government. “The Kerala authorities did not ask permission before construction. The survey conducted by state Forest department three months ago, clearly states that the Kerala border ends mid road and the construction undertaken by the Kerala government comes under the Brahmagiri wild life sanctuary which has rare species of wildlife,” he said adding that the construction, however will not affect wildlife.

Meanwhile, EKK infrastructure Company Deputy Project Manager Sree Raj said that though the Kerala government officers held a meeting with the then Government of Karnataka, Forest Minister B Ramanath Rai, PCCF, Additional Chief Secretary and other officers at Vidhana Soudha in April last, they failed to arrive at any conclusion. He said that last week Kerala government approached National wildlife Board to get permission to complete the bridge.

The state government’s move to stall the work has evoked resentment from Villagers of Makutta and businessmen in Virajpet. B K Ibrahim, a trader in Virajpet said that everyday hundreds of passengers and transport vehicles pass on this road, which is filled with potholes. “Our state needs to learn lessons from Kerala where roads are well maintained and road users are happy,” he said adding that the Karnataka and Kerala roads can be compared at a place called Karike near Bhagamandala, on border of Kodagu- Kerala to know the road management of two states. The locals say that the Karnataka state government’s decision to raise objection to the construction has deprived the locals and the tourists the air transportation facilities coming up at Kannur. “The proposed Kannur International Airport will be opened during September next. While Devanahalli airport is five hours away from Virajpet, Kannur airport is just one and half hour away from Virajpet,” say locals.

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