Bhola Kumar Rajak is only 14 and has to walk for over 4km everyday to reach the Asudha Mukunda upgraded middle school from Nanhuakura village in Banka. Sunday was no exception, though the purpose was different.
The teenager did not want to let go an opportunity to narrate the plight of his and neighbours at Nanhuakura village that does not even have the provision of drinking water, leave aside other infrastructure. The platform to air his grievances was a meeting of a forum, which the villagers called Badua Vikash Sansad, and the venue was the Asudha Mukunda school.
Badua Vikash Sansad consists of 91 elected representatives and functions like Parliament. The elected representatives are known as “members of the parliament”. Besides, it has one nominated member from Mukti Niketan, a non-government organisation in Kotoria. The nominated member does not have the voting right. The Badua Vikash Sansad has been functioning since 2003 and looking after welfare issues of 45 villages under three panchayats with a population of over 48,000 people in Chandan block, around 45km southwest of Banka and 300km east of Patna.
Encircled by the Badua river on three sides and the Biharo hills on one, Chandan block is virtually cut off from the rest of the state and is synonymous with abject poverty and backwardness.
“That’s why we called it Badua Tapu (island), where people are subjected to sub-human existence,” said Anirudh Prasad Singh, the convener and the nominated member of the “parliament”.
Sunday’s session began on the ground of the school with the welcome speech of the president of the “parliament”, Kailash Mandal, a resident of Pipra village. Manjur Ansari, a resident of Kurumtard, played the role of the prime minister and focused on the implementation of the proposed watershed projects worth Rs 4 crore. He also talked about the need to improve the education facilities for the students in the area. Over more than two dozens elected members addressed the session, highlighting various problems of the villagers.
“We discussed ‘bills’ on the watershed projects, education infrastructure, healthcare, drinking water and irrigation facilities. We would take up the issues with the authorities concerned. We would also approach the public representatives of the areas, urging them to take steps for concrete solution,” said Manjur Ansari.
Singh, the convener of the “parliament”, said: “On January 4, 2001, we conducted a meeting and decided to constitute the Sansad. The aim was to raise the voice for our rights. The forum finally became functional in 2003 with two elected members from each vikash panchayat representing 45 villages.”
The vikash panchayat is the grassroots level unit of the Sansad and has three elected members and seven-nine general members from each village, he said, adding that the forum had managed to put pressure on the then Union external affairs minister and Banka MP, late Digvijay Singh, to sanction more than Rs 50 lakh from his (MP) fund to construct a 200-metre road bridge across the Badua on Deoghar-Kotoria-Sultanganj road near Sarkandaghat within three month from the date a “bill” was passed by the “parliament”. “Earlier, we had to swim across the river during monsoon. Ever year, 7-10 people, mostly students, downed in the river while crossing it,” said Mandal, the president of the forum.
“The ‘parliament’, however, remained defunct from 2005 to 2011 because of our convener’s illness,” said Mohammed Habib Ansari, an elected member of the forum.
Singh, the convener, said: “Despite our efforts, the ‘parliament’ has not yet succeeded in ensuring representation of women as its members. We have reserved one seat for a woman representative among the three elected posts in each vikash panchayat. But because of illiteracy and abject poverty, the women are not coming forward to join the forum.
Sanju Devi, a resident of Pagramanjhidih, who attendant the session of the forum, said: “We hope that women like us will attend the session in more numbers and join the ‘parliament’ to send across their messages to the policy makers concerned.”