Sunday, July 14, 2024

Wearing slippers, Manali SDM makes way for deluge-struck 4,500 vehicles

It’s not a storm in a teacup when downpours last week dislodged boulders and rocks and triggered heavy flooding in Kullu-Manali in Himachal Pradesh.

But this officer, Raman Sharma, knew it all along. The realisation about the plight of the stranded tourists in some 4,500 vehicles hit him with full force after he himself paid Rs 50 to a roadside vendor for a teacup after a hectic rescue work amidst mounting pressure.

After paying a price for it, he has been on his toes in slippers to make way for landslide-struck commuters.

Subdivisional Magistrate (SDM) Raman Sharma, who is posted in the picturesque tourist Manali that witnessed full nature’s fury after last week’s deluge washed away about 40 per cent of the 41-km-long national highway between Manali and Kullu and several bridges by the swollen glacial-fed Beas river.

After the damage to the national highway, local authorities diverted the traffic on the rural winding road on the left bank of the river. But the hurdle is that even a crucial half a century old bridge on the Jagatsukh, a tributary of the Beas, has also been washed away in flashfloods.

The left bank 50-km road stretch between Manali and Kullu is the most dilapidated one, while the right bank is a national highway.

Before the motorists were allowed to use the left bank route to exit, a crucial challenge for local authorities was to make an upcoming bridge near Jagatsukh, some 6 km from Manali, motorable.

On knowing that the Jagatsukh bridge is the last lifeline for safely evacuating people in some 4,500 vehicles, comprising Volvos, SDM Raman Sharma reached the spot, braving torrential rains on July 11 to make the upcoming bridge motorable.

Sharma told IANS that the construction of the new bridge was underway as its both ends were to be connected with the link road.

“There was a lot of pressure on us to make the bridge motorable. A huge volume of the vehicles were parked on sides of the bridge. Everyone was in panic to leave for their destinations. It was raining heavily. We reached the spot with a JCB and a handful of labourers. But the JCB soon developed a snag. I told them to start lifting boulders and muck physically to fill up the gaps on both sides of the bridge,” an elated Sharma told IANS.

Locals told IANS the SDM himself started lifting the boulders. On seeing the official, a large number of local villagers and motorists too joined him to make the bridge motorable.

As the SDM’s shoes were damaged in a slurry of mudslide, he brought a pair of sleepers from his vehicle and was involved in an earth filling operation that lasted for nearly two hours.

“We were racing against time as the traffic snarl was getting longer and longer while the stranded tourists were in panic to leave the place as early as possible. They were feared of another deluge. The determination of the SDM was the motivating spirit for the locals and passersby, largely the youth, to speed up the rescue work,” Prem Thakur, who runs The Byke Neelkanth hotel in Manali, told IANS.

Local residents Gautam Thakur and Hari Chand Sharma, who were also involved in the volunteerism, said the bridge was temporarily made motorable with demolition wastes, excavated earth and construction debris.

“It was a memorable spirit of camaraderie,” remarked Prem Thakur.

He said after the bridge was made motorable, the SDM expressed his desire for a cup of tea to soothe stress.

A roadside vendor charged Rs 50 for a cup of tea. After sipping the hot tea, the SDM was on the toes to clear the bumper-to-bumper traffic snarls even without wearing a raincoat or using an umbrella.

SDM Sharma told IANS that the old bridge of Jagatsukh has been permanently damaged and work is on to complete the new one on priority. “With the evacuation of the tourists almost over, there is no such pressure from motorists. The new one, which is partially motorable, will be completed soon.”

On being asked about paying Rs 50 for a cup of tea, he jokingly remarked, “After day’s hard work, ‘kya fark padta hai’ (What’s the difference).”

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

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