A focus for all parties before the panchayat elections, the tribal district, particularly Daringbadi block, known as the Kashmir of Odisha, is still waiting for basic infrastructure.
When the panchayat polls were fought in Odisha recently, development was the common platform for parties across political boundaries. They all promised better roads, water supply, PDS availability, health care and education. More access to welfare programmes and an end to corruption were among the top of the agenda for most of the parties. The ruling Biju Janata Dal went an extra mile to propagate the development schemes it has launched, their benefits to the people in the panchayats apart from what it was planning for the future.
The ground reality, however, remains far more different. Development is a distant dream in some of the remote pockets of the state. With every mile, the signs of development begin to fade. The bountiful Kandhamal district is an example. This tribal district was a focus of all parties before the polls. But get to the ground and you know people are struggling even for basic facilities. The MCL team recently visited the place to know more about what is missing in the district which is considered a nature’s gift.
Kandhamal is widely known for its tourist sites and rich forest produce which generate huge revenue for the state. However, the real development betrays this fact. Daringbadi, known as Kashmir of Odisha, is where MCL focused its ground survey and found that the block is waiting for minimum infrastructure even after dozens of development programmes being implemented year after year.
Daringbadi block comprises Simonbadi, Badapanga, Dhirukuti, Gunjibadi and Mandabadi gram panchayats which paint a contrasting picture with the urban areas of the district because of the absence of communication facilities.
These five GPs are bounded by Seekapata canal. To venture out of the villages, residents have to cross the canal but nowhere exists a concrete bridge. There are two make-shift hanging bridges, made of metal wires, which are used by people. Such a mode of communication is fraught with risk but there is no other option left for the villagers. Be it hospital, school or local markets, villagers have to take to these makeshift bridges. Even approach to the farm fields necessitates use of this bridge since most people depend on agriculture and on forest product for their livelihood.
Manoj Pradhan, a resident of Gabatbadi village under Simonbadi panchyat expresses helplessness of his community in face of such challenges. “We have been facing this problem for long. Absence of a bridge means we have to use risky communication modes since there is no other option. I am a farmer and all of my agriculture fields are located at the other side of the canal. For livelihood, me and many others like me have to go there on a daily basis. During the summer and other seasons, we somehow manage to go by that rope but during rainy days it becomes a big challenge to cross the canal because the water level rises and the rope gets slippery. There is life threat involved in using this mode of communication but the Government does not care,” he says.
Before every election, political leaders visit them during the campaigning and promise a bridge over this canal. Around 10 years ago, work for a bridge was started with the initiative of the then MLA Saluga Pradhan, but it could not be completed.
This is the story across the panchayats. Saroj Mund, resident of Simonbadi village, has a family of six including his kids and parents. Every day, the family members embark on different journeys. The children go to school and the elders go to workplaces. “Every time, we have to use that wire bridge over the Seekapata canal which is suspended at a height of 25 feet above the ground level,” he says. Under such circumstances, neither a critical patient can go to the hospital nor can a doctor come to see a patient. When hard-pressed, pregnant women have to go by the rope way for their delivery but even such a sorry plight has failed to catch the attention of the Government as no action has been taken yet.
This has led to serious mishaps and loss of lives too. Bipin Pradhan, a local political worker, says quite a few lives have been lost in the past because people keep using the risky wire bridge. “We took this matter to government and in year 2002, funds were sanctioned but even as the initial stage of work was underway, the local MLA was removed due to political issues and work was stopped there. For the last 16 years, the same fate awaits us. Recently, villagers laid a wooden path on that bridge which has eased communication but it is not a permanent solution,” says Pradhan.
The bridge gets trickier during the rainy season. While villagers find it very difficult to cross the canal, carrying goods to their home is harder. Some residents have come up with innovative methods which are even more risky. “People put their goods in aluminium pots and swim across the canal holding the pots as vessels. This is how people live in this part of the state. The biggest reason is the political instability because of which the issue has not been resolved,” he points out.
Former BJD MLA Saluga Pradhan acknowledges that communication is really a big issue in the area. “During my tenure from 2000 to 2004, I had initiated the bridge project over the canal. We started work with a sum of Rs 10 lakhs from the MLA LAD Fund and another Rs 10 lakhs from DRDA but change in local leadership stalled the bridge construction work which is still held up,” he says.
MLA Jakab Pradhan, who belongs to Congress, offered no clarification on issue and said “action would be taken as soon as possible to resolve the problem.” District Collector also did not answer.