Bansgarh (Purulia), Dec. 18: Dirt roads, recently patched up, led to the venue of an unprecedented “development fair”, 40 minutes after branching off the highway leading to Ranchi. The one-acre ground, sandwiched between rocky and partly-forested hills, is about 60 km from the district headquarters and just 3 km from the spot where the only landlord in the region was beheaded by MCC activists with tacit support from sections of the local population.
The murder and looting of November 26 in the Jagadish Tiwary household has shaken the administration and the police as it was the first instance of overt “terrorism” by the Maoists in Purulia. But it is the local government machinery which, realising that discontent and class differences led to the attack, has taken the first visible remedial measure.
“The Unnayan Lakshya Samannay Mela that was held here on Monday is the first of a series of similar efforts that the administration is undertaking to let the people know of the various schemes and assistance the government has on offer,” said district magistrate D.P. Jana after inaugurating the fair.
“We had such plans in mind and had even allocated over Rs 1 crore for the development of the more backward regions. But the MCC attack has served as a catalyst for their implementation,” Jana pointed out.
Officials explained that the local population, mainly comprising tribals, had felt neglected and alienated for a long time. Even the famous arms drop in December 1995 in the same vicinity in Jhalda II block did not lead to the development of the region.
“All the attention was short-lived. We still don’t have roads linking the villages, health centres or schools. More important, we don’t have water to irrigate our fields,” said Nagen Hembam of Korchhe village. He had come to the mela full of curiosity and some hope. So had about 2,000 other men, women and children, who had trekked several kilometres to the day-long event.
“Nothing like this has happened here before,” said 60-year-old Mamata Tudu, walking stick in hand. Without the CPM party machinery (the panchayats in the region are mostly Congress-ruled), the turnout was quite satisfactory, remarked an official. A free kichdi lunch, however, had been prepared for 4,000 people. Stalls on agriculture, health, education, fisheries, forestry, animal husbandry, among others, were set up. About 1,000 villagers had a health check-up.
Lagan Hasla of Shulugnahar village was detected with multi-bacilliary leprosy, creating a flutter among the health personnel at the fair. His leprosy could be infectious. “We have given him medication and a team will visit his village tomorrow,” said deputy chief medical officer A.K. Biswas.
District police superintendent V.K. Goyal assured the gathering that all help by the police would be provided to the people and the administration in carrying out development work.
“But the people must overcome their fear over reporting an event. Even if it is a rumour over MCC activity, like trees being cut or the forceful collection of subscriptions, tell the police secretly. Your identity will not be revealed,” Goyal exhorted at the fair.
Ironically, two of Tiwary’s sons visited the fair, their tonsured heads partly covered with mufflers to avoid recognition. The family members are now staying in Kotshila and don’t have the courage to come back to their home here.