Ranchi, Sept. 11: When Jairam Ramesh interacts with local residents tomorrow while visiting Saranda to review the implementation of an ambitious development initiative in the West Singhbhum forest, he is not going to like what he hears.
For, on the eve of the Union minister’s visit, his fourth since he launched the development plan in the former Maoist stronghold, a group of villagers from several Saranda hamlets gathered in Ranchi today, expressing their unhappiness at the way promises made by the government barely nine months ago were far from taking shape.
If bureaucratic lethargy and lack of coordination between the Centre and the state on setting up a proper administrative and social infrastructure were the larger issues, the villagers from Tholkobad, Manoharpur and Dhiga were also upset about how goodies the minister handed out to them in the form of solar lights and transistor radios during earlier visits had now stopped functioning.
“Within a few days, solar lamps and radios given to us stopped functioning. We are unable to recharge the solar lamps,” 50-year-old Gangaram Hunhaga of Tholkobad complained to The Telegraph at SDC Centre in Ranchi.
No one denies that the distribution of solar lamps to residents of the forests, large areas of which have been without electricity for decades, was a worthwhile initiative.
But as the Hunhaga points out, “If it doesn’t work, what is the use? There are around 300 people in our village who are facing similar problems because of the poor quality of the gift items.”
Vikram Mundari of Dhiga would rather have access to basic facilities like healthcare and roads and arrangements for a regular source of income instead of solar lamps.
“Radio aur lamp mera pet nahi bharega. Mujhe kaam chahiye (Radio and lamp won’t fill my stomach. I need work),” said the 40-year-old. All that had happened so far in the name of the integrated action plan, he went on, was the creation of two check dams in his area but that, too, without proper irrigation facilities.
“Abhi mantriji ke aane ke naam pe do boring ka ghosna kar diya adhikariyon ne do din pehle. (Just two days before the minister’s arrival, officials have announced two deep boring wells), he added, insisting that all they wanted was work under government schemes.
Road work, Mundari pointed out, was negligible. Whatever little that took place was done with the help of machines, he said, explaining how they were, therefore, denied the opportunity to work under government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna or MGNREGS.
“We will present the minister with the actual picture of the ground realities of work there if he gives us time,” said Rakesh Roshan Kiro, a fellow villager.
If there were political overtones in their criticism — however justified — the reasons were not hard to find. For the villagers had been brought to the state capital under the aegis of Jharkhand Janadhikar Morcha, whose leader Bandhu Tirkey was a known government-baiter.
“On the one hand they say the Centre is treating Jharkhand in step-motherly fashion. The government here is demanding extra funds for the state. But when the Centre is giving money to develop Saranda, the state government is not cooperating for its proper implementation,” he alleged.