The dawn of August 15th 2022, amidst the Independence day celebrations, brought the news of the tallest railway bridge of the world being completed. The gorgeous structure looming high over the Chenab river of Jammu & Kashmir!! A wow moment indeed was accomplished by the techno giants and intellects at Afcons. The image was mesmerizing, the beauty and pride with which it stood amidst the mountains of J & K was impeccable – the mountains had got their new neighbour!
Reading further I realised that 16 more bridges are proposed in J&K. Some part in me sank deep on reading this, the thrill and pride of the achievement was took over by concern. I recollected Er. Sonam Wangchuk, the Rolex award winner innovator who was conferred with the title of “Architect of the Ice stupas”, speaking at the 360° Conference held in Mumbai in the year 2017-18. He was speaking of the fabulous earth buildings and nature inspired technology that was being used at SECMOL, the school that was his brain child. The school that he built lives, teaches and works in sustainability, not only with the environment but with the people too. The ice stupa was another innovative sustainable solution proposed by Sonam Wangchuk for the water crisis in the Himalayas. While he was enlightening the audience with his remarkable work, one of the attendee from the audience asked, “Sir, when you are doing such amazing work in the Himalayas, why is the bridge that we use for the adventurous bike trips to Leh and Ladhak not being strengthened”. He further added that “It is very risky to drive the bikes from such a bridge, fatal calamities can occur, we get stranded certain times. Please look at strengthening the same too”. Sonam Wangchuk immediately replied “Who asked you to come there with your bikes?. The bridge is meant for the people of that village. They travel every day on foot, carts and animals to the other side for selling and buying daily goods. It’s their everyday bread and butter. Your recurring machines (bikes) have made the bridge most vulnerable and unsafe for the villagers. They still travel as there is no option for them.” He further added that “the bridge was a perfect locally built sustainable solution to the villagers for years together, there was no problem. Your uncontrolled travel, tourism, adventure by bringing the bikes is the problem. Strengthening the bridge by thrusting in piles, steel, concrete is not the solution, it ruins the entire environment around it.” It was the most humble and ardent request made by him to the audience.
The highest world record-breaking marvel, 16 more such bridges!!! I glanced at the image once again, looked around the image this time. The heavy concrete mountains raised on either side of the bridge as support, the huge industrial plant built by Afscons nearby to assemble precast members of the bridge, the machines moving too & fro on the roads constructed over the mountains for easy transportation…. and this was just the beginning. Yes they were the new neighbours, though they were not welcoming the rains to percolate in the ground, the roots of trees to cross over, the oxygen to flow freely and the ecosystem to sustain, they were welcoming the tourists in innumerable numbers. The marvel will be adorned, the economy will be boosted and the tourism will be at its peak. Let us archive the image of Chenab! Our upcoming generation will need it in their history books. Once upon a time this bridge that you see today, loomed over a river named Chenab, it was said to be lost due to landslides, cloud burst or no rainfall.
We got an Independent India, are we now ruining the independence of others? Are we sustaining this freedom or are we forcing people to abide our innovative ideologies which only a few believe? It is the independence calling, we need to pause and reflect! We need to realise where to stop, and where to innovate. If we do not realise it now, we will be just another East India Company!
Prof. Rupali H Gupte
Principal at Smt. K. L. Tiwari College of Architecture