With the inauguration of the much-awaited Gurupriya bridge by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday, over 150 cut-off villages of Balimela reservoir in the Maoist-infested Malkangiri district got connected to the rest of the State after almost five decades.Mr. Patnaik termed the Gurupriya bridge a pride of the nation which symbolises peace, cooperation and progress. He also announced a Rs.100-crore package for development of the remote cut-off areas of Malkangiri district.According to the Chief Minister, through the package the cut-off areas would become regions of pride. The special package includes a fishery project in the reservoir, construction of two roads in the erstwhile cut-off areas, electrification, drinking water supply, provision of healthcare and a new bridge at Manyamkonda.‘Peace most important’The Chief Minister reached the Maoist-prone region around noon by helicopter. He paid homage to those who were martyred for the bridge and appealed to Maoists to renounce violence and join the mainstream of society. Through his Twitter handle, he said peace was of utmost importance for progress. He appealed to the left-wing extremists in the region to forsake violence and embrace progress that the bridge brings to the region. The bridge was a dream project of the State government. Over 30,000 tribals of these villages had got cut off from the mainland in 1972 because of the Balimela reservoir created due to a hydel project. Since then the villagers have had to cover distances of up to 60 km by boats or launches in waterways from Chitrakonda in the mainland to Jantri, the last ferry point inside the reservoir. Because of its extreme remoteness and only land link with Visakhapatnam district in adjoining Andhra Pradesh, the cut-off region became a safe haven for Maoists.In 1982, the State government had planned to construct a ‘hanging bridge’ on the Gurupriya river. But this as well as several subsequent attempts to provide road connection to the cut-off region never took off as Maoists, through their violent activities, always opposed construction of a bridge.Technical challenges The work order for the bridge was awarded to Gammon India in 2006 but it could not progress due to technical challenges and Maoist threats. Maoists ambushed a boat carrying Greyhound jawans from Andhra Pradesh in the reservoir in June 2008. At least 38 people, including 35 jawans, were killed in the attack. The Collector of Malkangiri, R. Vineel Krishna, was kidnapped by Maoists in 2011 during his attempt to electrify these cut-off villages.The construction of the bridge was also a technical challenge as it had to be erected in 70- to 90-foot-deep water. Six attempts by the State Works Department to get bidders for construction failed and at last in 2014 it was awarded to Royal Infraconstru Limited through competitive bidding.The bridge took around three and a half years to complete. The Border Security Force had to be deployed in the area for anti-Maoist operations and for providing security cover for the construction work.As Maoist threat still looms over the bridge, it is under round-the-clock vigil of security personnel and CCTV cameras.