When United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi lands here to campaign just three days before the April 10 election, she will have a revelation: the promises made by her mother-in-law and her husband and concerns shared by her son in one of the poorest regions of the country.
Similarly, for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, scheduled to address a public rally in the neighbouring Bolangir on April 4, the region will give much to ponder on the “development model” he has been talking about.
Nuapada district, more backward than the stricken KBK (Koraput, Balangir and Kalahandi) region of Odisha, has seen prime ministers and leaders who later became one visiting its pockets of poverty over five decades. Many poverty alleviation programmes were launched keeping the socio-economic condition of the region in mind.
Despite the visit of a galaxy of leaders, the plight of the people remains unchanged; many remaining bonded labourers in brick kilns, forced to drink fluoride-contaminated water and fighting chronic hunger.
Padman Majhi, 70, of Nangalbod village in Sinapali block posed for a photograph with Rahul Gandhi, now Congress vice-president, in 2008. He and had walked long to get a glimpse of the former Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, when they visited the area in the 1960s and the 1980s respectively.
“Only a couple of years ago, a black-top road has been laid through our village. We have to travel 22 km to access banking facilities. At least 20 per cent of the total families of each village in my gram panchayat migrate to work in brick kilns outside the State every year. About 80 per cent of the village around me are yet to see electricity. And sending children for higher education is a distant dream for us,” Mr. Majhi says. He has preserved his photograph with Mr. Rahul Gandhi. “Once I had a chance to visit Bhubaneswar. It seemed to me as if I had landed in different country,” he says.
“Indira Gandhi coined the famous ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan after seeing the plight of drought-hit people, and during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule, a long-term action plan was launched. The former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, came out with a special programme for the KBK region. However, chronic poverty has only worsened in the region and is re-emerging in different shapes,” Ajit Panda, a Khariar-based journalist, says.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone for the Lower Indra Irrigation Project in the district in 2000, when the project cost was Rs. 217 crore. Now the cost has escalated to over Rs. 1,200 crore, but not an inch of land has been irrigated. Mr. Panda says around 85 per cent of the population of the district live below the poverty line. “There are about 20,5312 acres of government waste land. Only 30,384 acres was distributed among 14,456 people. Many of the beneficiaries are yet to take physical possession years after the distribution of land,” he says. Nuapada continues to be a symbol of backwardness.