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Sunday, 23 January 2011

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On the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu Lagoon:

Bridge of peace and hope

January 16 turned out to be a historic day for the people of Jaffna as their long-time dream became a reality with the opening of the new bridge between Sangupiddy in Pooneryn and Kerathivu in Navatkuli.

The bridge on the lagoon between Kerathivu and Sangupiddy is 288 metres in length and 7.1 metres in width. Construction had cost Rs 1,037 million.

Initiatives to link the Jaffna mainland with the North-Western coastal region via Pooneryn were taken way back in the late 1930s. The engineering genius Mahadeva, who was the brainchild behind building the Elephant Pass causeway, had first worked out a plan to connect Sangupiddy in Jaffna and Kerathivu in Pooneryn by constructing a causeway in the shallow lagoon waters. However, the plan did not materialise due to protests from the fisherfolk in the area and producers of salt in Elephant Pass.

The protests surfaced on the basis that fishing would be affected due to the stagnation of salt water and as far as the salterns were concerned, the production of salt in Elephant Pass would be hampered as a result of less water flow from the lagoon to the salterns which had a good harvest of salt throughout the year.

On the other hand, the importance of connecting Pooneryn with the Jaffna mainland via the Kerathivu and Sangupiddy Lagoon (which is the mouth of the Elephant Pass lagoon) was felt as many people from Jaffna had their paddy and coconut cultivations in Pooneryn. The variety of rice known as 'Mottaikaruppan' was popular among the people in Jaffna and was cultivated in Pooneryn on a large scale before the three decades of disturbances in the North.

The Northerners who had their paddy lands in Pooneryn brought their harvest to the Jaffna mainland from Pooneryn to Colombuthurai port by boat. The sailing between Pooneryn and Jaffna remained arduous and time-consuming.

Pix: Susantha Wijegunasekara

In the 1950s attempts were made to reduce the distance between Sangupiddy in Pooneryn and Kerathivuin Navatkuli, Jaffna by filling the shallow lagoon with limestones which are found in plenty in the Valikamam region in the North. But, despite efforts by various quarters, the bridging of Pooneryn and the Jaffna mainland remained a distant dream for the people of Jaffna.

According to former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, Professor P. Balasundarampillai, the new flyover bridge above the Sangupiddy and Kerathivu Lagoon is extremely significant as the bridge did not merely link the Jaffna mainland with Pooneryn in the North Western region.

"The 288-metre flyover bridge will serve in a big way in enhancing the socio-economic aspects between the North and the South. The new bridge has reduced the distance between Colombo and Jaffna along the western coastal belt by 110 km. It has also paved the way for an alternative route between the North and the South, apart from the A-9 highway.

Renovation, construction

"Highways play a major role in developing the economy of a country. Since the darker period in the North and the East came to an end in 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa focused attention on building new bridges and repairing the damaged ones in the areas hit by violence. For instance, the renovation of the Mannar bridge and the construction of bridges in the Eastern Province had highlighted the President's vision in uniting the island nation geographically by constructive means," Prof. Balasundarampillai said.

The Professor also said that though the Sangupiddy - Kerathivu bridge is now a reality, the A-32 highway, which links Colombo with Mannar via Puttalam, has to be improved on a mega scale to ensure hassle-free transportation.

The A-32 which stretches up to the Jaffna peninsula could be a `lifeline' in addition to the A-9 highway in transporting essential goods and services to the North and the South, he said.

Dr. K. Kunarasa, who retired from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and also won a prestigious award from President Rajapaksa for his contribution to Tamil literature last year, said the new bridge was a great blessing for the entire country.

"I really appreciate the far-sightedness of President Rajapaksa in completing the new bridge. For the past 70 years politicians, civil servants, engineers and academics had made fervent attempts in making the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu bridge a reality. Even Parliamentarians from the North had made valiant attempts in the past by allocating funds to complete the bridge; whereas President Rajapaksa had given the greenlight for the construction of the bridge soon after the conflict ended in the North.

The entire structure had subsequently been completed within eight months. The construction of a mega structure of this nature in a war-torn region in a short spell is also praiseworthy," Dr. Kunarasa said.

Agricultural produce such as paddy and coconuts which had been cultivated in Pooneryn were transported to the Jaffna mainland by boats and ferries between Sangupiddy and Kerathivu for more than six decades.

The ferry service also carried vehicles such as buses, lorries and cars which travelled between Mannar and Jaffna via Pooneryn.

Festive season

Thousands of pilgrims to the historic Thiru Ketheeswaram Hindu Temple and the Catholic pilgrims to the famous Madhu Shrine in Mannar had travelled via the ferry service between Sangupiddy and Kerathivu, before troubles escalated in the peninsula.

However, with the completion of the bridge between Pooneryn and the Jaffna mainland, the number of pilgrims attending the Maha Sivarathri in Thiru Ketheeswaram in Mannar this February is expected to increase.

Similarly, the number of Catholic pilgrims for the Madhu festive season this year is also expected to be huge.

The areas along the coastal belt in the North Western Pooneryn region, with its beaches and forests, also have good potential for tourism in the region. In time to come, the hotel industry could thrive in the region and the new bridge in Pooneryn would be a boon for the industry.

The heartland of Jaffna has been constructed with causeways and bridges to link the islets separated by shallow water lagoons. Four causeways and bridges remain in Jaffna, connecting the distant islets.

Elephant Pass is the most significant of them all as the causeway connects the Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of the country.

The other causeways and bridges remain within the peninsula. The Ponnalai causeway links Karainagar with Jaffna. The Vanar bridge with a causeway connects the Punkuduthivu islet with the Jaffna mainland.

The newly-built bridge

The longest of them all is the Pannai causeway which links Kayts and the Karampan areas with the Jaffna mainland.

The former Parliamentarian from Kayts, the late Alfred Thambiaiya played a key role in constructing the Pannai causeway.

Therefore, the latest addition to the Jaffna Peninsula, the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu flyover bridge is more of a bridge for building peace in the country while giving hope to the people in the North in opening new vistas with regard to the unity and integrity of the country. On January 16, when President Rajapaksa commissioned the new bridge on the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu Lagoon, the melodious Nathaswaram tunes from prominent musicians from Jaffna brought a pleasant atmosphere to the region which had remained lifeless for three decades with only the thundering sounds of deadly artillery gunfire.

 

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