Andhra Pradesh

The ‘mountain men and women’ of Visakha Agency

Tribal people laying a road from Bonneru to Cheedimetta, in the Visakhapatnam Agency area.

Tribal people laying a road from Bonneru to Cheedimetta, in the Visakhapatnam Agency area.  

Tribal people of various hamlets join hands to lay a 15-km road in Anantagiri mandal

We heard about Dashrath Manjhi, a poor labourer, who, on his own, had laid a road by cutting across a rocky mountain at Gehlaur village near Gaya in Bihar, after his pregnant wife died as medical care was beyond reach due to lack of road connectivity.

An award-wining biopic was made on him, ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’, in 2015, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte.

Probably, the tribal people living in the interior hamlets of Anantagiri mandal in Visakha Agency do not know who Manjhi is and may not have seen the film.

But they turned out to be the ‘mountain men and women’, as they set on an onerous task of laying a 15-km road, cutting across dense forests and hillocks.

‘No connectivity’

“I have not seen a road connecting my village to the mandal headquarters since my birth. Many people, as a result, died as proper medical care was out of reach. Pregnant women and newborns died while being carried in crude dolis,” said Madala Karriamma, a 65-year-old woman, from Bonneru in Anantagiri mandal.

The Agency, which is spread across 6,200 sq km, has over 2,200 tribal hamlets, and about 1,100 of them do not have any form of road connectivity.

The situation in Anantagiri, one of the 11 mandals in the Agency, is similar.

Team effort

But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the residents of nine hamlets in Anantagiri decided to lay the road on their own. They are led by Madala Venkata Rao, a third year civil engineering student hailing from Bonneru.

“Araku is about 80 km from my hamlet and Devarapalli, the nearest town, is located at a distance of 30 km. And my hamlet has no road connectivity to these places. There is no road till Cheedimetta, which is about 15 km from Bonneru. From Cheedimetta, there is a road to Devarapalli. We decided to lay a ‘kuccha’ road on our own up to Cheedimetta as our efforts to convince the authorities to lay one went in vain,” Mr. Venkata Rao said.

About 300 people, who included men, women and even senior citizens, from hamlets such as Bonneru, Nadummavalasa and Pandirimamidi in Vinukota panchayat; Putikaputtu and Jagadalamamidi in Kevarala panchayat; and a few others joined hands to lay the road that would benefit about 2,000 tribal people living in the nine hamlets.

“We have been working for the last 10 days, and about 10 km of the road has already been laid. The remaining 5 km will be completed in another week’s time,” said Mr. Venkata Rao.

A person with knowledge in civil engineering, Mr. Venkata Rao first motivated the educated youth of the village and later took up the cause with the village elders.

“It took some time to convince them. But once they agreed, there is no looking back,” he said.

Since there is no funding or payment, the villagers have decided to depute at least one person from each family for the work on a daily basis. They are using their own tools and bring their own food and water.

Pucca roads

Upon coming to know of the development, Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA) Project Officer D.K. Balajim said a report for laying roads had been sent to the government. “Once we get the technical sanctions, pucca roads will be laid by the year of this end,” he said.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 12:55:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/the-mountain-men-and-women-of-visakha-agency/article30804005.ece

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