|The deserted Integrated Development Centre at Digha village in Manoharpur block of Saranda and (right) gram pradhan Niyaram Topno (above) and fellow villager Kanady Horo show off their hunting gear — a traditional bow and arrow. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
Digha/Saranda (Singhbhum seat), April 16: It’s a little over noon and 13-year-old Biraj Mani has just walked home from Odisha after buying a notebook.
In the morning, her grandfather, Niyaram Topno, who’s the gram pradhan or village Munda of Digha hamlet in Digha panchayat under Manoharpur block, Singhbhum Lok Sabha seat, also cycled to Odisha to buy medicines and rice. Niyaram’s younger daughter Kasundi, who’s Biraj’s mausi, is pursuing her intermediate studies from Madhusudan College, Sundergarh district, Odisha.
Biraj, Niyaram and Kasundi are Jharkhand residents but surprisingly entirely dependent on the neighbouring state for every little thing.
They aren’t alone. Over 15 villages, home to above 1,000 families, walk or cycle to and fro Odisha, some 7km away, for daily work and mundane needs.
Why? “Kya kare yahan kuch hai nahin. (What shall we do? This place has nothing),” Niyaram said.
Digha, a “rescued” rebel hub in the deep underbelly of Saranda, Asia’s largest sal reserve, is on Jharkhand-Odisha border.
Declared rebel-free, in mid-2013, an Integrated Development Centre (IDC) was constructed in Digha at a cost of around Rs 5 crore and inaugurated by Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh.
Today, it’s a tale of corporate social responsibility project gone awry.
Some 26 shops in the IDC that were meant to cater to all basic needs of Digha panchayat — a notebook for Biraj, for instance — have not opened for months.
A caretaker and resident of Digha village Suresh Guria couldn’t recall when was the last time the IDC opened.
“Khulta hai kabhi kabhi jab adhikari log aate hain toh. (It opens sometimes when the officials come),” he said, adding that the main problem was of ownership of these facilities.
“Neither SAIL or government is sure how to run it. So, I also too haven’t got my salary as a caretaker since the last few months,” Guria added.
According to Niyaram, they had been demanding for a bridge over Arkiya, a big drain, as the only link between Jharkhand-Odisha in this area for smooth commuting by state government for years but to no avail. “When Madhu Koda won in 2009, he promised to get it done. Nothing happened. We also put our demand before Jairam Ramesh few months back. Let’s see,” said the village elder.
Digha till date doesn’t have electricity or clean drinking water. But it is slowly seeing some visible changes in irrigation facilities as a check dam proposed under Saranda Development Plan is nearing completion.
“A road has come up and people commute on bicycles. I suppose the credit goes to the Centre,” summed up the gram pradhan.
But, their fondness for Odisha continues. “If over 90 per cent people in this panchayat have not visited the district headquarters Chaibasa or state capital Ranchi, hundred cent per cent have gone to Odisha, Niyaram said.
Their own Manoharpur block headquarters is over 40km from Digha. In contrast, Sundergarh district in Odisha is barely 7km away. “Odisha gives us jobs, education, markets, healthcare,” says Digha resident Kanady Horo. “I have started sending my two children to a government school in Sundergarh, Odisha.”