Often referred to as the ‘vishwesharaya’ of sullia by villagers benefiting from his constructions, girish bharadwaj who hails from a small village Arambur, in Aletty district near Sullia town on the western slopes of Kodagu. Born in Mangalore in 1950, received formal education from P.E.S. College of Engineering in Mandya near Bangalore has built close to 100 bridges connectingvillages to schools, hospitals and jobs. His innovative constructions, at times using trees as anchors, combine people’s participation with local funding.
His original aim was to become MD of a company and live a comfortable life. Instead he found himself building bridges for villagers through tough terrain and challenging circumstances. “in hindsight, I think if I had pursued my original dream, I would be lost somewhere. I find happiness in this. The great love I’ve got from people is an added bonus”,says bhardwaj veteran of 97 bridge constructions. Two people were responsible for bringing him into the process of connecting people- previous sullia forest range officer narayana, and his source of inspiration, Sridhar bhat, who built a bridge across the payaswini river using ropes and areca nut tree. While his shortest bridge,20mts in length, is in koppa taluk, the longest one measuring 290 mts crosses the ghataprabha river in hukkeri taluk of belgaum district. While most of his constructions are in Karnataka, he has also put up bridges in kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
It hasn’t been an easy ride. ”the inauguration of the first bridge was nothing short of a nightmare” he says. His bridges were viewed with skepticism, seen as ‘temporary structures’ by zilla panchayats. As he persisted with building more, there was a slow change in opinion. bhardwaj attributes his success to three factors; people’s participation, a dedicated staff and his wife who has been very supportive. Barring the first bridge at arambooru and the hanging bridges made using trees as anchors, all his designs meet standards specified by the Indian roads congress (IRC).
Girish uses local eco-friendly material to build these cost effective hanging bridges. People of the connecting villages assist him in building most of the bridges using their own resources. A bridge on the river Payaswini near Puttur in Western Ghats is one of his great expressions of bridging the bond between two warring neighbours. His projects are enabled by funds from zilla panchayats, gram panchayats, pwd and forest departments in conjunction with local donations. Bhardwaj does not charge for design and drawing in projects across Karnataka. His work does enable earnings though.
Although bhardwaj suffered a heart attack some years ago, he remains active. He wants to hang up his boots only after he finishes ten projects currently on hand, which will also see him completing a ton of bridges. “connectivity is the core issue which leads to development in every sense. I’d like to train young people to carry my dream forward” he says..