| Villagers gather at the hill stream to collect water at Kharbaja. Picture by author
Anil Chandra Rabha, 45, a resident of Kharbaja village in Bongaigaon district, had written to President Pranab Mukherjee on October 21 last year, demanding better roads.
The letter said: “Our village is more than 200-years-old. During monsoon, the road becomes slushy and no vehicles can ply on it. Patients requiring emergency treatment have to be carried on shoulders to the nearest hospital, as no ambulance can reach the village.”
After receiving instructions from the office of the President, the under-secretary to the Assam government wrote a letter to the additional chief engineer (roads) in Chandmari, Guwahati.
Action, however, seems to have remained stuck in government files. Kharbaja still does not have an all-weather road or drinking water supply. The village falls under Abhayapuri South Assembly constituency and Barpeta Lok Sabha seat, which goes to polls on April 24.
Kharbaja is around 195km from Guwahati and 5km south of the National Highway 31B at Khagarpur under North Salmara subdivision in Bongaigaon district.
“Cutting through hill slopes and bumpy land, our elders had built a road to Khagarpur in 1948,” said Mongolu Rabha, 70, a resident, highlighting the plight of Kharbaja, where time seems to have stood still.
“We have never seen any legislator or parliamentarian visiting our village. Only during poll-eve, some lower-rung political leaders visit and beg for votes with false promises,” farmer Santosh Rabha, 40, said.
With repeated pleas to past and present legislators and the district administration for a communicable road failing to yield result, Anil Rabha was forced to move the President.
Around 2,000 families live in Khutamari and Khagarpur villages neighbouring Kharbaja, which has a population of 550. A majority of the residents belong to the Rabha community, while the rest are Koch-Rajbongshis.
Residents of Kharbaja are mostly farmers, who cultivate seasonal vegetables and paddy.
The womenfolk still have to collect water from the stream near the village, as there is no other source of drinking water.
Except job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS) and a few houses built under the Indira Awaas Yojana, no other major government schemes have been implemented in the village.
“Our people do not get jobs under the MNREGS despite having cards, we have no potable water and only a primary school, established in 1949. For high school, our children have to go 7km away, and a college is 32km away,” said Bhaben Chandra Barman, a government employee.
Barman said the villagers wanted a responsive government at the Centre, which would listen to their demands.
l Barpeta votes on April 24