By A K SAHOO, Rayagada, October 23, 2017: Even after six decades of independence, minimum development at Chandrapur block in once Maoist dominated Rayagada district eludes the tribals.

It has been over three years since Sabyasachi Panda, the topmost Maoist leader of Odisha operating from his hideout in Chandrapur block in Rayagada district, was arrested.

The rugged road leading to Chandrapur

But the state apparatus keeps continuing with a heavily guarded Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp at Dangasorada. And in the next few kilometers, two more CRPF camps await for them at Hanumanthpur and Raibiji.

The rugged 54-km road meandering through thick forests from Munigudua town to Chandrapur block headquarters look almost deserted during the journey.

“Chandrapur block in Odisha is perhaps a cursed land where people cannot think of living their life with minimum facilities. With around 71.74 per cent of its 28,952 population belonging to tribal communities and another 11.80 per cent belonging to scheduled caste, the block does not have a college, proper healthcare facilities and other utility services,” says Sujeet Bredeka, Sarapanch of Chandrapur.

Shockingly, the immediate need for better schools, hospitals, banks, houses and employment in the region has failed to move the government. The block has 218 revenue villages and over 90 hamlets. Of the total 5,885 families, at least 5,450 families (92.60 per cent) are Below Poverty Line (BPL) – the worst figures in the country.

“I don’t think any block in the country has got such a huge number of families under BPL category. We apprehend if the neglect persists and people continue to battle similar deprivations and exploitations, the left wing extremists might again raise their ugly heads,” said the former chairman of Chandrapur block Bhima Gagarenga.

And yet the Naveen Patnaik government had done precious little to intervene in ensuring development

A bridge that collapsed soon after its construction

in the region. The roads which were built during the British period and in 1960s, were hardly improved in recent times. Many bridges and culverts constructed in recent years caved in due to inferior quality.

 

Only five concrete roads have been constructed in the last 10 years while funds coming on the head remain unutilized. Unemployment problem is assuming serious proportions as youths do deserve to get jobs not due to lack of education,” said Bhima Gagarenga,.

Literacy rate in the block stands at 38.95 per cent, one of the lowest in the state and a far cry from the national rate of 74.04 per cent. Hence, people are not aware of their entitlements under government schemes and fall prey to corrupt government employees.

Ironically, the block does not have a single college. Only 22 students are pursuing +2 Arts education in an extension study centre of a private college based at 200 km away in Koraput.

What helped the ultra left rebels to spread their tentacles here is the poverty and pitiable conditions of the people. They succeeded in recruiting cadres from here to replenish the losses they suffered from time to time in counter with the police and paramilitary forces.

Gagarenga further adds that there are no good connecting roads from almost 50 per cent villages to the block headquarters. Many people walk 20 to 30 km to reach the block office to receive their wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), old-age and widow pensions, physically handicapped allowances, Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) work orders and other benefits.

“Very often, the beneficiaries spend nights as the block headquarters due to power failure and lack of sustained internet connectivity. Since most of the payments are made online, failure of internet connectivity cripples operations at block office. The entire block has no private mobile networks as the operators never ventured into area, initially due to the fear of Maoists and now as they consider it not worth operating in the area due to its poor economic base. The three BSNL mobile towers fail to serve the people due to frequent power failure,” says the young Sarpanch.

Chandrapur-Sarapanch-Sujeet-Bredeka

The block does not a nationalized bank. Utkal Gramya Bank, a regional bank, does not allow its client to withdraw more than Rs 2,000 per day. As a result, persons requiring more than Rs 2,000 for particular purposes like health care of their relatives and education of their children suffer a lot.

Recently, the state government has posted a fresh Odisha Administrative Officer (OAS) as Block Development Officer (BDO). The young BDO – George Dungdung – is unlike his predecessors is staying in the block headquarters instead of the nearest towns and works overtime to address various issues.

“I got posted in May, 2017. This is my first posting after I cracked OAS. At present, I’m working on a mission mode. I’m trying to ensure that all the schools have teachers and every hospital in the block gets the required number of staff. Besides, we are preparing action plans to be submitted for improvement of road conditions,” said the BDO.

Tribals washing their clothes and bathing in Phalaphalia River

“In the past we have seen the rebels making corruption a major issue to evoke people’s sympathy for their activities. In fact, they succeeded in their attempt to a great extent. Now, we are trying to ensure that they do not get such a chance. Wherever, corruptions have taken place, we are bringing them to the notice of appropriate authorities for actions,” said Mr Sahukar.