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Hope floats for twin falls

- Village committees maintain hot spots sans amenities to woo tourists

Their majestic beauty blemished by laggard governments for what seems like aeons, Jharkhand’s wonder waterfalls Hirni and Panchghagh are eagerly hoping a recent court order will deliver them from a morass of deceit and negligence.

While multi-crore tourism infrastructure at Hirni in West Singhbhum — 70km from Ranchi — is on deathbed, public amenities at Panchghagh in Khunti, 52km from the state capital, never saw the light of day. The only reason why people still visit the two natural cascades is routine cleanliness campaigns launched by local village committees.

Jharkhand High Court on Monday issued a Republic Day deadline to the state tourism department to set up drinking water and sanitation facilities at the two falls. It also directed the chief secretary to ensure that bureaucratic reshuffle did not hamper the projects.

Both Hirni and Panchghagh, which lie off the Ranchi-Khunti-Chaibasa road, compel one to settle for hours just to hear vertical streamlets gurgle to one steep plunge or birds chirp or the breeze whistle through green canopies as silver white waters snake through rugged terrain.

But, while their natural beauty leaves one captivated, there are telltale signs of manmade misery everywhere.

“I have been coming here (Hirni) for three-four winters. Not much has changed. The Ramgarha River still plunges 120ft into a broad torrent. The closed guesthouse still looks haunted. And, imagine the irony if you die of thirst at a waterfall. There is no drinking water facility here,” said Manju Devi, a resident of Chakradharpur.

Her businessman husband Sanjay Paswan echoed her. “At a tourist spot, how can you not have drinking water, restrooms and some kind of an accommodation, even if modest. Such apathy is a shame,” Paswan said, adding that the nearest eatery was at least 10km from the Hirni Falls, either towards Khunti or Chaibasa.

According to Ratan Purty, a member of Dombari village committee that voluntarily looks after Hirni, the state government had in 2006 launched a waterfall revamp project complete with a guesthouse, walking trails, restrooms, food kiosks and seating arrangements.

While the lodge and kiosks downed shutters years ago for want of maintenance, the toilets raise a stink without water. Flash floods in monsoon also damaged the lone footbridge that offered a great view of the waterfall.

“Repairing the bridge or opening the kiosks is beyond our control. Owing to dearth of amenities, tourist footfall has slumped over the years. We, villagers, undertake cleaning activities so that the few who come do not find the place repulsive,” Purty said.

At Panchghagh — the confluence of five streams of the Tajna River — two incomplete tourist huts are classic examples of government neglect at a time when the high court is questioning under-utilisation of tourism funds.

Here too a broken footbridge poses threat to visitors. “We are planning to erect bamboo poles on both sides for tourist safety,” said Anand Dhodrey, the head of Panchghagh Saundarya Samiti and local resident.

On the unfinished accommodation, he claimed that the contractor left the job hanging in balance following differences with the tourism department two years ago.

“Nowadays, picnickers are few. Tourists stick to winter visits. So, between December and February, our Samiti makes temporary arrangements for snacks and water. Cleaning is also done. This place is our home; we try to make it presentable for guests,” Dhodrey said.

Time our tourism bosses considered some spring spruce-up.

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