| Hatticherra tea estate |
Hatticherra (Cachar), Feb. 7: It’s a gaon panchayat no different from the myriad rural institutions in Assam — the “usual” price-rise, corruption in locally elected organisations and lack of basic infrastructure being the primary poll planks.
But the “burning” issue that has scored over the rest, with almost all parties, including the Congress and BJP, trying to cash on it, is the encroachment of nearly 400 hectares of the 3,000-hectare Hatticherra tea estate by alleged illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
The fact that the 500-odd workers of the garden form a decisive voter base in the battle for the gaon panchayat has spurred political parties to accord high priority to this particular issue in the gaon panchayat that covers around 11 villages with 5,000 residents and is located around 16km from district headquarters Silchar.
Since 1985, the 502 garden labourers have been availing the panchayat “benefits”, which include dwellings constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana, drinking water facilities, community halls for assembly and meetings of the workers and link roads in the garden under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana.
A deeper look into the “benefits”, however, reveals a dismal picture. Only 54 houses were granted to the workers under the Indira Awas Yojana, while the PHE department supplies piped water for an hour every alternate day. “The supplied water comes mixed with drain water sometimes. It’s definitely not enough,” rued worker Pradip Nayek.
Only four link roads connect the labour colonies in the garden, which the workers feel is not enough. No new roads, however, are being constructed.
Another worker, Pranatosh Sil, 42, said such paltry panchayat benefits were “nothing but a mockery”.
The garden hospital, with its lone doctor and two nurses, is housed in a ramshackle structure. The supply of medicines, however, is a matter of concern.
Both Mitra Shuklavaidya of the Congress and Shefali Das of BJP — the contestants for the post of the goan sabha president in the goan panchayat — have been assuring the garden workers that they would try hard to wrest the benefits from the zilla parishad and the DRDA.
As for the impact of their assurances and fiery speeches on the workers, only the election results will tell.