The Ponte Conde de Linhares or the Patto Ribandar causeway as it is now called, was until recently the main link connecting Panjim to Ribandar and an engineering marvel of sorts. The 3.2km bridge was one of the longest bridges in the world. It was commissioned by then Portuguese Viceroy of India Miguel de Noronha, the fourth Count of Linhares after whom it was named. Built between 1633 and 1634, along the flood plains of the Mandovi River, it had a few salt pans on the southern side.
Although, at first glance it looks like a road, the bridge has several ducts which act to control the tidal waters. The Ponte Conde de Linhares can be considered as a marvel of sorts since it has lasted 359 years. It was not meant for shouldering heavy and continuous modern-day vehicles, let alone goods trucks, but still it has lasted all these years. What also adds to the marvel of the Ponte Conde de Linhares is that it stretched from the present Patto bridge to Ribandar and was originally meant for horse carriages.
The engineering of the Ponte Conde de Linhares is also a marvel. The original bridge was conceived by Jesuits, built on alluvial soil of the Mandovi river and stabilized with the help of the Benth trees locally called or Zambo. The superstructure was built from laterite stone, clay, grass and jiggery, which was the construction material used in those days.
Considering that we have reactive and not pro-active governments, who rush only after tragedy occurs, it is high time that either a parallel new bridge is built or the Ponte Conde de Linhares is completely overhauled and restored.
Old photos of the Ponte Conde de Linhares show that both, on the northern side and the southern side, the bridge was surrounded by large tracts of water with only a few salt pans on the southern side and there was no sign of trees. In the 1980s, the government’s forest dept got the bright idea of planting mangrove trees on the southern side of the river to prevent erosion of the bridge. The mangroves and other trees and bushes have multiplied several times and the roots have now eaten into the structure of the Ponte Conde de Linhares, posing danger to the future of the bridge itself. No care has been taken to conduct a survey to check the infiltration of roots into the structure of the bridge.
The Public Works Dept had constructed a protective wall to control further damage to the bridge since damage had already been caused. Speed breakers too have been installed to prevent further damage to the bridge.
The truth, however, is that the Ponte Conde de Linhares, which is a rich heritage, is in a precarious condition. The bridge has developed deep cracks right in the centre of the bridge towards the Ribandar side. All that has been done is the bridge has been tarred and the side walls have been strengthened. A part of the bridge had even given way some years ago, which has merely been repaired in part. Luckily none was injured.
Then PWD Minister Ramkrishna ‘Sudin’ Dhavalikar had ordered closure of the Ponte Conde de Linhares to take up extensive repairs to the signature bridge, however, protests from Ribandar locals forced him to abort the plan for complete overhaul of the bridge. If complete overhaul of the bridge in not done a major tragedy maybe on the cards.
The government must revive its plans of 2014 for a parallel bridge and do a complete overhaul of the causeway. The mangroves have to be completely reduced in number as they are destroying the very foundations of the bridge. A body should be constituted by calling in experts from the National Institute of Oceanography, the PWD and conservationists for a complete overhaul of the Patto-Ribandar causeway.
Though it would mean some hardships for the people of Ribandar, who will have to use the highway via Chimbel, it would be a worthwhile proactive measure to avoid a major tragedy in future.