Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Voted for the first time in 2014, villagers of Jharkhand’s Saranda forest still await development
Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Five villages in the extremism-affected Saranda forest area of Jharkhand voted for the first time in 2014. But with another general electiond due in a month’s time, those first votes that they had cast changed nothing for them.Updated: Mar 11, 2019 15:42 IST
Yet another general election has come around, but basic development still eludes some people in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand who got their voting rights for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. These are tribal residents of five villages in the extremism-affected Saranda forest area, and those first votes that they had cast changed nothing for them.
Their public representatives never visited these five villages: Jambaiburu, Dharnadiri, Chervalor, Balehatu, and Kadodih, home to 175 tribal families. After the 2014 parliamentary elections, party members had visited these newly minted voters only once: to ask for their support during the assembly elections.
Let alone electricity and roads, people in these villages do not even have any source of clean water; they are dependent on the highly polluted Koyna river and chua (small dig) near the river in the absence of hand pumps. The nearest hospital is situated in Kiriburu, around 20-30km from these villages, hence locals take free medicines from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) 197 battalion camp. Tribal students drop out of school after Class V in the primary school in Kalaita village, as the middle or high schools are situated 15km away in Karampada.
Jambaiburu munda (village head) Jairam Torkod said that they had been highly excited during the last elections as the villagers had voted for the first time since Independence. They were also hopeful of getting development projects after the elections. During the campaigns, political party members had visited these villages to seek votes, but after winning the elections, none of the public representatives returned, added Torkod.
Speaking of the plight of these villages, the munda said, “The villages become islands during monsoon. Primary school students from the villages get stuck at the other side of the Koyna river during heavy rainfall as the water level rises. In the absence of a bridge over the river, students have no option but to wait until the water level goes down and sometimes cross the river during the later hours.”
Devki Kumari, a former member of West Singhbhum Zila Parishad from Noamundi 1, said that they had fought to incorporate these villages (not listed under any block since Independence) into the Noamundi block to ensure that they got basic facilities, but those efforts were in vain.
“Panchayat representatives had been working on starting mini anganwadis (rural child care centres) and to train the local youth as paramedic trainers for ensuring health and other facilities along with the installation of water pumps. But due to the weak approach of the administration, the villagers still live in conditions that are decades old. Giving voting rights to villages is meaningless if they’re deprived of other developments,” said Kumari.
Sources said that the block administration had done a survey of these villages for starting a bridge and other development projects, but due to objection from the forest department, such projects could not be started. The forest department recognises only 10 villages as legal, while around 110 villages have illegal status in the Saranda forest division in West Singhbhum. The forest department has strictly banned development projects there, and villagers are expected to leave the area on their own.
Forest range officer Surendra Singh said that people lived in these villages illegally after deforestation, hence projects could not be allowed to start there.