Sunday, December 2, 2007

Development eludes Nandigram

Saket Sundria & Kajari Bhattacharya
NANDIGRAM, Nov. 29: People in Nandigram still don’t want the chemical hub. All they want is development to reach it. This being the same place that has witnessed a battle in which all kinds of modern weaponry was used.
Poor or non-existent roads. Villages sans electricity. Inadequate educational institutions with only a few primary schools, unlike many other rural areas in the country, Nandigram enjoys the luxury of a college and a couple of high schools. But it also has a very high drop-out rate because poverty drags the children into labour sooner than desired. A nearly useless health infrastructure. That’s what Nandigram is like, a typical example of rural India but a place where the government wanted to build an ultra-modern chemical hub.
The issue, however, provides a common chord binding the battling villagers of Nandigram. Cutting across party lines, people here feel that the government had grossly failed to provide decent living conditions despite promises being made before every election. Out of the 99 mouzas in the trouble-torn blocks of Nandigram I and II, electricity has reached only 22. The remaining 77 are still forsaken and in the dark. “I want the government to provide electricity to us as soon as possible. We have been suffering for the lack of it”, said Mr Dulal Manna, a CPI-M party member from Gokulnagar Paschimpally. He and his two bothers fled to Khejuri after 3 January. His brother, Mr Jawahar Manna, a CPI-M local committee member, even lost his 22-year-old son in a bomb explosion. Despite that, he faced no trouble after coming back. “Before the last Assembly elections, our leaders promised us electricity. We are still waiting. This has become a norm”, he said, disappointment lacing his voice.
His neighbour, Mr Bhagbat Giri, a BUPC supporter, lends his voice to the grouse. They are not fighting each other anymore.
Roads are only misnomers for the dusty tracks connecting the villages. There are very few pucca roads, built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. The only mode of transport are van-rickshaws. The only hospital is the Nandigram Block Hospital and even that lacks the most basic of facilities. This apart there is one primary health centre in Maheshpur.
Nandigram witnessed another uprising under the leadership of Sudipta Tewari in 1982. Even then roads were dug up and police was boycotted to draw the government’s attention towards the underdevelopment. Things, however, have changed little. The fact that the Burn and Standard project on 400 acres near Jellingham, started over a decade and half ago, has failed miserably also gives rise to mistrust among the villagers.
“We have always voted for the Left but have got little in return. Now they even want us to part with our land and are facing violence because we refused to”, said Mr Purnachandra Rana of Gokulnagar Purbapally. Don’t we deserve a better life, he asked. He is one of those, who chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee described as “our men”. Is Mr Bhattacharjee listening?