Chief minister Arjun Munda blesses a beneficiary of Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Yojana at Simdega on Monday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, Nov. 5: Chief minister Arjun Munda made a host of promises to the people of Simdega, the most significant of which was not so much the announcement of Rs 200 crore to rebuild key highways that cut through the state’s hockey cradle, but the idea that the government was ready to set up a solar power plant if the people so desired.
On the second phase of his Johar Yatra, Munda, accompanied by a few ministers and senior officials, arrived in the hilly district last night after driving down 160km from the state capital.
“Last evening, I held meetings with panchayat representatives and senior citizens of the district who told me about the poor condition of roads in villages. I, therefore, decided to sanction Rs 200 crore to the district for revamping some of the roads,” Munda said.
As is usual during such trips, the chief minister was greeted by several groups of people, voicing myriad concerns. But most spoke of the lack of livelihood opportunities other than agriculture, which was anyway dependent on rainfall in a district where irrigation facilities were all but non-existent.
Others spoke of a severe power crisis plaguing the district that shares borders with neighbouring states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, and is disadvantaged by acute backwardness and a fairly strong presence of Maoists.
“Power supply is practically missing,” said a resident. “Also, work on setting up a power grid at nearby Biru has not been completed even though two years have passed.”
Munda responded positively. “If the people of Simdega want, the state government will set up a solar plant in the district,” he said, adding that he would also find out what was ailing the power grid at Biru, 10km from Simdega.
For Seema, Sita Ekka and Lalmati Devi, that solar plant promise was too good to be true. “Availability of electricity is like a dream. The proposed solar power plant will be a great relief for us,” the girls from Kurdeg said in unison.
After spending the night at the district guest house, Munda held a meeting with local officials today to evaluate the progress of various government schemes.
With him were social welfare minister and local MLA Vimla Pradhan, excise minister Gopal Krishna Patar, social welfare secretary Mridula Sinha, health secretary K. Vidyasagar, South Chotanagpur commissioner Surendra Singh and deputy director of information and public relations department Mukul Lakra.
Among the roads that would benefit from Munda’s Rs 200 crore fund were the 48-km-long Kochedega-Chhattisgarh link via Ramrekha, the 73-km-long Simdega-Kurdeg-Udara Road and the 63-km-long Simdega-Sewai-Kutirkocha Road, apart from over two dozen village roads.
His own drive to Simdega — his last visit was in January — was pleasant for most part of the 160km journey, save a 25km-long stretch between Kolebira and Simdega which was in bad shape.
Clearly, last-minute patch-work on the surface by the road construction department wasn’t enough.
The youth of Simdega, which has only two graduate colleges, Simdega College and Parvati Mahila Mahavidyalay, is starved of opportunities. Most want to venture into teaching or nursing as a career.
Residents were frank. “We are hard working, but do not have alternative source of income except agriculture. Fisheries, poultry and animal husbandry have a lot of scope. But, we are still waiting for government initiatives,” said Asha Kerketta of Kurdeg.
But sport in general and hockey in particular, is big. Ashunta Lakra, former captain of India women’s hockey team, is from here as are former internationals Bimal Lakra, Samurai Tete, Masira Surin and Olympian Silvanus Dungdung.
“The district so far has produced 39 international hockey players. The area is a talent poll for hockey. Hence people have been demanding an astro-turf stadium. I request the chief minister to consider this demand of the people,” minister Pradhan said.
She also spoke about another demand from the youth _ a BEd college and a nursing school.
Later, Munda inaugurated a vikas mela where he distributed agricultural equipment like tractors and pump sets worth Rs 33 crore to local residents. He also gave away bicycles to schoolgirls, apart from blessing 75 couples under Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Yojana by presenting them with a cheque of Rs 15,000 each.
The chief minister left for Gumla in the evening where he will halt for the night. He will go to Lohardaga tomorrow and return to Ranchi on Wednesday.