The faded signboard at Rantholi in Nagaon district. Telegraph picture
Nagaon, March 15: The writing on a concrete slab at one end of Rantholi village reflects how 500 goldsmiths were deceived in the name of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
Half of the words on the board have faded and the dream of a mega project in its vicinity under the rural job scheme, too, has faded from the villagers’ minds.
“The project includes a children’s park, a golf course, a tourism resort with boating and other water sports and a medicinal garden surrounding 30 hectares of Sapekhati beel,” Maniram Bonia, a boatman, said.
Maniram stays just 200 metres from the water body.
Sapekhati, under Deudhar gaon panchayat, is situated just 10km southwest of Nagaon district headquarters and is known for migratory birds and snakes. The water body is at the heart of goldsmith-dominated Rantholi.
The mega project was aimed at the progress of the communities living there.
“The beauty of the beel is in the autumn when birds start migrating. Earlier, the locals went to hunt the birds in the water body. But after the announcement of the project, they stopped hunting,” Bulu Bonia, a fisherman said.
“Sometime in 2009, local development block officials, accompanied by panchayat representatives, visited the beel while we were fishing. They called us and arranged an instant meeting. We were told that the water body (which is in a shambles) would be reclaimed and its lost connection with the Kolong would be revived,” he said.
“We were also told that two roads would be made — one surrounding the beel and the other to link it with the PWD road,” Bullu Bonia said.
“In one corner there will be a park and an ethnic village. The tourism department will be requested to establish a resort comprising a floating restaurant, boating and water sports infrastructure. Villagers will be organised in groups to preserve the zone,” Bonia recalled the officials as having said.
The assurances by officials led to hope among the villagers that there would be a mega change in their livelihood. Within a short period, different NREGA schemes were sanctioned and work like beel reclamation and road construction were taken up.
“A few villagers were employed for a few days. However, just when the work had taken off, officials announced they had no money to continue,” Jayanti Hazarika of Rantholi said.
Villagers alleged the panchayat leadership and block officials had created some fake job card holders and when the money against one such scheme came, the lion’s share of it was transferred to their account.
According to official records, two schemes on road construction, which cost Rs 10 lakh and Rs 3.55 lakh, a water body development work for Rs 4 lakh, five schemes of beel reclamation work, with two using card holders of neighbouring gaon panchayats, were taken up for Sapekhati till 2010.
“Altogether Rs 34.79 lakh was spent officially but no work was done on the ground. The beel is still covered by hyacinth and foliage. There is just the concrete signboard as a sign of the project. The entire amount was released to a panchayat member and even after our repeated representations, no steps were taken for a departmental inquiry into the matter,” Hazarika said.