The new school, built after the devastating floods of 2010, is perilously close to collapsing once more as the Ganga has closed in again. Ajit Kaviraj (right) with wife Sukumaya and daughter Alka at their new home built after the floods. Pictures by Vijay Deo Jha
Narayanpur (Rajmahal), April 22: On the last day of campaign today for the third and final round of Jharkhand’s Lok Sabha polls on April 24, MP aspirants for Rajmahal have ventured to nearby towns of Sahebganj and its rural flanks to seek voter support. But 40km from Sahebganj, at Narayanpur diara, a riverine ghetto of poor Partition victim families from East Bengal (now Bangladesh), voters are searching for a candidate.
Not one MP hopeful among the 11 in fray for Rajmahal has ever visited Narayanpur, though the settlement, under East Narayanpur panchayat, traditionally voted for the BJP.
Due to Ganga’s whimsical contours, Narayanpur, situated on its banks, narrowly escaped becoming an island. The river swishes through three states — entering Sahebganj (Jharkhand) from Manihari in Katihar (Bihar), negotiating Rajmahal (again, Jharkhand) and then going to Farakka and Manichak in Malda (all in Bengal).
For administrative convenience, Narayanpur is divided in four parts, I to IV, with IV on other side of the Ganga close to Bengal’s Malda.
But administrative footprints are invisible. Floods force Narayanpur’s 2,000 residents to scuttle like refugees every year. The forsaken settlement blisters with helpless frustration and rage. Families of eight, often 10 or 12 members live in one-roomed thatched huts. There is no electricity, little access to water, no sanitation or healthcare centre. Families relieve themselves on the riverbank. Marooned from basic facilities, they live in filth, amid foraging pigs and pi-dogs.
Like the river and the district administration, political parties also take them for granted.
“Koi nahin ata hai idhar sahib,” said Krishna Biswas, a young Narayanpur resident clad in a dirty gamchha (cloth towel). “Who will come here sir? Why will they risk backache? Have you seen any road?”
This time, residents are not sure whom to vote for or whether to bother at all. They are full of anger against local BJP MLA from Rajmahal Arun Mandal “for doing nothing”.
Social worker Partho Dutta, who has been working in Narayanpur, claims nature’s fury has enriched the cabal of politicians and contractors for years. “In 10 years, work orders worth at least Rs 7 crore to strengthen the riverbank were sanctioned by the state government for flood control. Money meant for the embankment goes to bank accounts (of contractors, politicians, officials).”
Repeated misfortunes have made farmer Phatik Sarkar fearless. “Our mukhiyapati (mukhiya’s husband) Dipankar Biswas is hand in glove with officials and contractors. His wife Subhadra is a rubber stamp. Go, see the size of the boulders,” he says sarcastically.
Another resident, Little Sarkar, alleged: “Last year, Rs 10 lakh was sanctioned for flood control. Mukhiyapati and Ghishu Shekh, whose wife Sahnaz Begum, is the zilla parishad member, grabbed the funds.”
Boulders and iron nets are put up every year as buffer against flooding, but the quality of work is so poor that they wash away. Every year, when the Ganga floods, residents routinely lose land and property. At times, when the river settles, the topography is changed and farmers don’t get land back.
For instance, farmer Ajit Kaviraj lost 10 kattas of fertile land in 2010 when the river inched half a kilometre closer.
Ajit and his wife Sukumaya grow vegetables. “Land is fertile. But we don’t get proper price for our produce. If we earn some Rs 3,000 a month we feel very lucky,” Ajit said.
Still, they are counted among Narayanpur’s elite. Ajit’s son Srivas has passed his BEd with distinction and is looking for a job whereas daughter Alka is doing her plus two.
The fact that Srivas and Alka have managed to come this far is proof of their tenacity. “Over decades, Narayanpur has worsened. We had a pucca road and a school but they washed away. A new middle school building was constructed after the devastating 2010 floods but may collapse anytime as Ganga has broken her banks again. Politicians and corrupt contractors continue to make money out of our misery,” young farmer Phatik said.
He added it was the government’s duty to find and implement a permanent solution to floods as well as provide them with BPL cards, homes and the barest minimum such as drinking water and sanitation.
Fellow resident Swapan Sarkar told The Telegraph: “Nobody knows where 100 Bengali families of Felu Tola, near Narayanpur, moved after the 2010 deluge. If you come here after a decade, you will probably not find us here.”
Residents unanimously say they don’t know where their polling station would be as the plinth of the school building is in bad shape.
Asked about Narayanpur’s future, elderly residents laugh without mirth. “There,” points one. A few naked children are scampering near the banks, trying to catch fish for their evening meal.