Promised projects hanging fire, all bets off in Aurangabad - Hindustan Times

Promised projects hanging fire, all bets off in Aurangabad

By, Aurangabad
Apr 13, 2024 09:29 PM IST

Farmers in Aurangabad rejoiced as Modi revived the Mandal dam project, but were disappointed when it was not mentioned in recent speeches, impacting the upcoming elections.

Farmers of Aurangabad erupted in joy when Narendra Modi, then the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, announced at Bharat Vijay rally in Gaya’s Gandhi Maidan in March 2014 that long-abandoned Mandal dam project on North Keol, a tributary of Sone river, would be revived and water will reach their farmland.

Locals in Aurangabad constituency discuss elections at a tea shop. (HT)
Locals in Aurangabad constituency discuss elections at a tea shop. (HT)

They saw another flicker of hope once again on January 5, 2019, when he laid the foundation stone for completing the unfinished work on the project, comprising construction of Kutku dam on the river in Latehar and Mohammadpur barrage in Palamu of Jharkhand. One of the canals, originating from Mohammadpur barrage, aims to irrigate about 77,000 hectares of land in five blocks of Aurangabad district — Nabinagar, Kutumba, Deo, Madanpur and Rafiganj.

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But they were left high and dry when they found no mention about the long-awaited project in Modi’s address during the unveiling of schemes worth 21,400 crore at an event in Aurangabad’s Ratanwa village on March 3 this year. “Neither could the water reach our farms, nor did we get any kind of fresh guarantee from PM Modi,” says Sadhu Singh, a native of Amba village, citing several other unfulfilled promises.

The Mandal dam project, which started in 1972 at an estimated cost of 30 crore, aimed at providing irrigation to 1.20 lakh hectares of farm land of Aurangabad, Gaya, Jehanabad and Arwal districts in Bihar and Palamu, Latehar, Garhwa of the neighbouring Jharkhand. The work on the project was discontinued in 1993 when the forest department cracked its whip, claiming that it will destroy the ecosystem of Betla National Park and Palamu Tiger reserve as it will lead to submergence of about 4,700 hectares of land.

However, the cabinet committee of economic affairs headed by PM Modi, in October 2023, approved revival of the project with a revised estimate of 2,430.76 crore (containing central share of 1,836.41 crore) as against the balance cost of 1,622.27 crore (central share: 1,378.60 crore) approved earlier in August, 2017.

“Such issues often crop up in debates between supporters of ruling parties and the opposition groups in far-flung areas during the election period. It’s not that we don’t keep a tab or lag far behind those living in towns in terms of access to knowledge in an age of information technology (IT) revolution. Sadly, these issues hardly influenced voting pattern, as people finally toe their caste line or their proximity with the candidates in the fray,” says Mathura Prasad Mehta, a resident of Ratanwa village.

Enthusiasm for the high-profile election appear to be missing among a majority of villagers at Deo, Madanpur and Hanspura villages of the Aurangabad constituency, which is expected to witness a close contest between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee and three-time sitting MP Sushil Singh and a new entrant from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Abhay Kushwaha. Presence of Sunesh Kumar in the fray as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) nominee could complicate calculations for both candidates owing to the party’s small but most dependable vote bank.

Sanjiv Kumar Singh of Madanpur acknowledges that there is palpable disenchantment against the sitting MP among upper castes, including Rajputs. “But they had little choice. The India National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) would have a definite edge over the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had the Congress fielded Nikhil Kumar this time. It was due to his personal intervention that saw the district police turning in to action to stop unabated incidents theft. The town misses such a decent leader like him owing to overpowering nature of the RJD,” says Sanjiv, adding that Congress workers are helping the INDIA candidate in the fray but the zeal is missing.

“This will change in favour of Sushil Singh once UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath addresses a rally in the town on April 15 and charge up the people with Sanatan pride. To maintain the tempo, the BJP candidate has planned to take out a religious march on the streets on the occasion of Ram Navami, which falls on April 17, a couple of days before the polling,” said Raj Kishore Singh, who runs a photocopy machine at a shop at Ramesh Chowk in the heart of Aurangabad town.

Chandresh Kumar Singh, a small-time businessman at Kutumba village, is, however, not sure if Sushil Singh could retain the seat for the fourth consecutive time. “RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is also addressing a rally alongside the UP CM. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too has sought to gain people’s traction on the issue of joblessness and price rise. Kushwahas form a formidable voter segment along with Muslims and Yadavs. As it appears now, there is apparent divide among ‘panchpania’, which comprises Thakur, Dhobi, Ravidas, Bhuiyan, Barhai and Lohar. Moreover, four of the six assembly segments — Kutumba, Rafiganj, Aurangabad and Gurua —are held by the Mahagathbandhan (MGB). Two, Imamganj and Tikari, were won by Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular, when it had contested under the MGB. Currently, HAM-S is with the NDA,” says Chandresh Kumar Singh.

Muneshwar Mehta, a native of Nasirpur village in Tikari block and a graduate, however, foresees a tough contest in the constituency. “A section of youths cutting across caste lines are optimistic for a government job if the INDIA comes to power. Tejashwi Prasad Yadav has shown the way during his stint as the deputy CM. People are now getting enlightened by browsing through the social media on the issue of corruption and ‘jumlas’ being dished out as ‘guarantee’. What happed to the medical colleges, as promised to open it in Madanpur area by Sushil Singh? The longpending project of a railway line between Bihta and Aurangabad is still on paper,” rues Mehta.

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    Subhash Pathak is special correspondent of Hindustan Times with over 15 years of experience in journalism, covering issues related to governance, legislature, police, Maoism, urban and road infrastructure of Bihar and Jharkhand.

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