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Er. Girish Bharadwaj-Bridge Man of India

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Dr. N. Subramanian
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 2:52 am    Post subject: Er. Girish Bharadwaj-Bridge Man of India Reply with quote

Er. Girish Bharadwaj-Bridge Man of India

Girish Bharadwaj is an Indian social worker often referred as Sethu Bandhu and Bridgeman of India for building around 128 low cost and eco-friendly bridges in remote villages across India.

Personal life
Born in 1950, Girish received his Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Mysore in 1973. Girish Bharadwaj is the proprietor of ‘Ayasshilpa’ — a general steel fabrication workshop which is also engaged in repairing farm machinery and construction of Gobar Gas plants since 1975.  Girish started an Agro Service Centre in 1973 with his friend initially. Later in 1975, he established his own “Rational Engineering Industries” at Sullia which is now called Ayasshilpa. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1973 from P.E.S. College of Engineering in Mandya. He married to Usha and both of them have 3 children. Usha is from Anugraha family near Bantwal. His both sons are graduated in engineering. His Father-in-law is Narayana Bhat, his Mother-in-law is Saraswathi Bhat from Koila. Girish is also Founder-Secretary of Sneha Education Society of Sullia which provides basic quality education in Kannada Medium.

How He Got Involved in Bridge Building

The story of how Girish Bharadwaj came to make bridges is interesting. His ancestral village, Arambur, in Aletty district is near Sullia town on the western slopes of Kodagu. But his family had moved long ago. His father was an engineer and Girish was born in Mangalore in 1950. He went to an engineering college in Mandya near Bangalore with only occasional visits to Arambur. Indian engineering curriculum of the seventies was –to put it charitably– classical. Not much emphasis was laid on experimentation or innovation. You got the sums right and you passed out into a world that hopefully taught you how to apply your basic knowledge.

In 1975 Engineer Graduate Girish Bharadwaj set up a small workshop in Sullia and instantly rose in everyone’s esteem. It was a time when India dreamt of becoming an industrialised nation and mechanical and civil engineers were held in awe. His was a modest repair workshop. The first break came when he got a contract to erect extruders and rollers for the rubber factory that Karnataka Forest Development Corporation was establishing nearby. The simple villagers employed as labourers saw the factory as a modern wonder. And Bharadwaj was seen as a wizard. Slowly, news of the young man spread.

Early one morning in 1989, a delegation from Arambur arrived at his house. As Bharadwaj heard with that sinking feeling you get when people grossly overestimate you, the village head-man said they had heard of his knowledge and skill. They had a request he must not turn down: the village wanted a foot bridge over their river Payasvini to lead them out of isolation. Sridhar Bhatt a village techno of Amchur –heading his own delegation– suggested as a starting point, the Lakshman Jhoola, a rope bridge across the Ganga in Haridhwar. Both villagers wanted stable versions of it with no yaw. They took him to Amchur where there was the rope bridge mock-up Bhatt had rigged between two windows across the street. There was no saying no now. The villagers had been smitten. They had their dream and they had their man.

“I came back overwhelmed by my sense of inadequacy,” says Bharadwaj. “My education had in no way prepared me to design and build a bridge. I was in panic.” He began to study bridges for the first time in his life. We have to imagine him in a small town in remote Karnataka, way back in the seventies when engineering education was ‘formally-British’ rather than ‘inventively-Yankee’. And there were no libraries to research in. He browsed a few civil engineering text books and quickly had a grip: he needed to build a ‘suspension bridge’. That was the most viable solution. And the only such bridge on which his books had some usable design information was the Golden Gate, San Francisco! Nothing less! That was the moment that spawned the suspension foot bridges of western India.

Bharadwaj got a hang on the design and worked out sizes and strengths. The pylons would be reinforced concrete and the suspension cable would be multi-strand industrial steel rope. The verticals were steel and the deck would be wooden planks, stayed against swaying. He approached the Regional Engineering College in Suratkal to go over his design. “Professor Lobo spent a lot of time over my design, made some changes and helped wholeheartedly,” he says.

Success of His First Two Bridges

Work began more or less simultaneously in the two villages, (across Payaswini river at his native place Arambur village and in Amchur village), and with enthusiastic participation of the villagers. The bridges cost about Rs.100,000 each but in a revolutionary break from the habit of looking up to the government, villagers subscribed the whole sum in cash and kind. Bharadwaj had built in no profit. He also contributed his time and all the construction equipment. Many villagers laboured for no pay. Women served tea and snacks. Children gambolled. They had a party.

Suspension footbridges built by Girish Bharadwaj are reliable and cost-effective

There were emotional scenes on the day the bridges opened. People simply, endlessly walked up and down the 87 m long Arambur foot bridge. Many choked with delight unable to speak. “I was at an extraordinary moment,” says Bharadwaj. “A middle aged housewife embarrassed me no end: she wordlessly fell at my feet, in thanks and looked up with her eyes full of tears.” He had not quite realised how much a bridge can mean. He has seen the changes his bridges have brought. Children could attend universities now and grooms are in plenty for village belles. Trade in village produce is booming. As these bridges have built in ducts for power and telephones these services are stable. Health emergencies are easily handled. And best of all, these bridges don’t permit cars, which pollute cities!

His suspension bridges could be completed in 3 months as against the standard Government designs in concrete that take 3 years to build, cost ten times more. The bridges at Arambur and Amchur became media darlings. There were public meetings convened to honour Bharadwaj. A full length Kannada movie –“Swati”– was scripted around the two bridges and became popular throughout Karnataka. And Girish Bharadwaj and his firm “Ayas Shilpa” [“Sculptures in Steel”] have had no rest since then.

More Bridges
He built his first bridge in 1989 across Payaswini river at his native place Arambur village. Over the last 28 years, he has constructed 128 Suspension Foot Bridges (SFB) of varying spans and dimensions. Now Girish is popularly known as “Bridge Man” of the nation with the making of 128 “Suspension Foot Bridges” across 32 rivers in four States. Among the bridges, the ones constructed across Vamshadhara river in a Maoist-affected village in Raighad district of Orissa and another at Shivapura in Joida taluk of Uttara Kannada were in the remotest areas.  His longest is the 220 metres one, near Belgaum across the river Ghata Prabha. He is very open in helping communities that do not have much money. He guides them to places where they can scrounge old cables and usable steel. In 12 instances bridges have been slung between sturdy trees instead of costly RCC pylons. His mission is to connect people with opportunities. Tony of Switzerland who builds Suspension bridges in poor countries came to see the works of Girish and treats him as “Bridge Brother.”

A mechanical engineer, Girish feels that he was destined to do the job of a civil engineer for a social cause. He had to face many hurdles like apathy from government departments, social resistance and technical difficulties at different phases of his work. While most of the bridges are constructed with funds from government schemes, the initiative is generally taken by the community. “Cable supported bridges are not new to the country. But it is the purpose that makes these bridges unique. The team’s social commitment and quality of work are exceptional,” says Ramakrishna Gowda, project manager, Nirmithi Kendra, Chikkamagaluru. In this district, this State-government initiative has collaborated with Girish to construct 35 bridges over a period of 20 years. A committed professional that he is, Girish doesn’t work on two projects simultaneously. His team comprises 30 people and they are all experts in SFB construction.

Awards and Honours
Numerous awards and honours received by him include Outstanding Young Person of Karnataka (1988), two Gold Medals for his service in Home Guards, Sir M. Vishweshwarayya Award, Zilla Rajyotsava Award, ‘BE THE CHANGE’ CJ Award by CNN IBN Channel, “Peace Through Services” award by Rotary International Dist. 3140 and ‘Asamanya Kannadiga’ by Suvarna Media Network. He was conferred the Padma Shri award by the Indian Govenment in 2017. He also received a Honarary doctorate from Vishveshvaraiah Technical University of Belgam.

See also:


Recent Flood Damage to His Bridges

According to the The Hindu dated Aug. 12, 2019, at least nine hanging bridges built by Girish Bharadwaj linking remote areas to mainland are damaged.  Of them, three are in Belagavi, four in Uttara Kannada, one each in Chikkamagaluru and Dakshina Kannada. A portion of the longest bridge in the country he has built also got damaged. It was 290-m long and had been built across the Ghataprabha connecting Ghodageri with Avaragola in Hukkeri taluk, Belagavi district. He said the bridges had been built at least two metres above the highest flood level reported in those places during the last 50 years. Of the 137 bridges built by him, 120 provided rural connectivity and the remaining had been built for tourism. “Going by initial reports, I feel two bridges can be repaired. I will know the actual situation only after visiting each of them,” he said.
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