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Voters clamour for basic amenities

By Meena Menon

LATUR, OCT. 7 . The road to Masla village, 42 km from Latur, is narrow and bumpy. The State transport buses stopped services some months ago, putting its residents to hardship. As a result, when the former Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Congress candidate and sitting MLA, made a visit to Masla, its residents were incensed.

Said a villager, Surekha Kulkarni: "We told Mr. Deshmukh that the roads were bad and the buses had stopped. We have to walk at least four km to the nearest road head. All the seven handpumps in the village are not working and we women spend most of the day fetching water from the only well which has water due to the rain."

"These people come only during the elections. What is the use of voting for them? Sometimes seriously ill people have only one option, that is to die before they reach any medical care."

However, residents are glad that three days after their complaint, the bus service was re-started, though erratically.

There is no sanitation facility in the village and the nearest primary health centre is 12 km away.

People leaving village

People are leaving this village and settling outside, said Sangita Adaskar. Sanjay Nilange said all Mr. Deshmukh did was to build a Rs. 8-crore flyover in Latur city. However, Nagnath Bakude from the nearby Tandulja village is all praise for his MLA saying, "he has built a high school for us and a cement concrete road, the water supply has also improved."

Mr. Deshmukh, who is seeking re-election for the fourth time from Latur, is up against Shivajirao Kavhekar Patil of the BJP-Sena. At a large rally in Latur on Wednesday addressed by the BJP leader, L.K.Advani, Mr. Kavhekar Patil focused on the issue dearest to the hearts of residents — water. "Latur city gets water once in 15 days. This is the pathetic condition of supply," he said, while promising to bring water from the Ujni dam.

Drinking water is a problem in the villages too, apart from the complete lack of basic facilities such as sanitation and roads. In Nilkanth village, near Masla, the water from the single handpump is not potable. Vaijanta Autade said: "We are forgotten after voting. When we go to meet our MLA we are kept waiting for hours and then turned away." Added Madhukar Autade: "There are no jobs here, and even though Vilasrao has a good chance, the people are very angry with him. You have to pay attention to your voters. This Government has been very corrupt and not accountable to the people."

Even the rains in the area after over three years of drought have not assuaged the people's anger. The rains have been erratic and most farmers have had to sow twice, after the first sowing did not germinate. Crop insurance has not been paid in many places despite massive failure of crops last year.

A tough fight

Further away, at Motegaon in Renapur Assembly segment in Beed district, the seat of the State BJP president, Gopinath Munde, people are not so unhappy. But Mr. Munde, seeking re-election for the fourth time, is likely to have a tough fight from the NCP's Phulchand Karad.

However, the main issue here too is basic facilities, and sanitation tops the list. Said Mangal Solunke: "The village has dirty, stinking nallahs and no one cleans it." Again there is some ire against their MLA. "Mr. Munde comes during the elections and then vanishes. However, he did build a temple for us and our roads have also improved. Water is available as the entire village buys it from a private source," Ms. Solunke said.

The situation in these villages is illustrative of the massive development backlog in the Marathwada region, which has given the State three Chief Ministers. Sudhir Deshmukh of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, a socialist party, said no political party was talking of issues in the region. Development issues are not on the agenda at all and there is a huge backlog in the sectors of irrigation, infrastructure and health services for the area. All the money is diverted to Western Maharashtra, the stronghold of the Congress.

The region has witnessed closure of sugar factories, water levels drying up and massive unemployment. There is a lot of anger among people and a sense of hopelessness and no party has an economic agenda to revive the region. However, people still believe in the power of their vote. Says 70-year-old Laxmibai Autade, "I will go to give my vote — after all it's my right and what is the use of keeping all this anger inside me."

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