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Where Odisha is galloping to progress

No distance too far: Prashant Kumar Behera getting ready for work in Odisha’s Malkangiri district.

No distance too far: Prashant Kumar Behera getting ready for work in Odisha’s Malkangiri district.  

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A junior engineer surveys cut-off regions of Malkangiri district to build new roads

Prashant Kumar Behera, a 41-year-old junior engineer in the Rural Works Division of Odisha’s Malkangiri district is working to ensure that development is on a fast trot in some of the remotest parts of the State.

He works in villages located on land cut off by the Balimela reservoir. This region lacks roads to this day, and even surveying is possible only on horseback. So Mr. Behera often borrows a horse from the villagers and sets off on his expeditions.

His visits form the ground work for new roads to connect the remote villages. Looking at his method, time stands still for many as horse-borne technical surveys were a feature of the pre-Independence era.

100 isolated villages

Nearly 100 villages isolated by the Balimela reservoir are not connected by roads. When the Gurupriya bridge was opened on July 26, 2018, part of this region with 151 villages got linked to the rest of Odisha and became ‘Swabhiman Anchal’ (region of pride).

Now, plans are on to build roads under the Setu project of the Odisha government and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana of the Centre, to connect the 100-odd villages. The idea faces opposition from the Maoists, who stalled construction of the Gurupriya bridge for decades.

Mr. Behera, posted at Khairaput along with his small team, is conducting surveys for roads in areas where no bike or four-wheeler can go. “For over 15 days a month, I use a horse. The entire region is horse country. Tribals use them for their transport and they are happy to share one,” he said. “When I am unable to return, I stay overnight at a village along with the horse,” he added. “Routes normally used by horses through the hilly forested terrain are less steep, and therefore good candidates for roads,” he explained.

The horse-riding engineer also makes notes about drinking water, health and education issues and relays them to those departments. Since Maoists oppose the move, he tries to build public opinion about roads as catalysts of development. As he sees it, more people support new roads than those who oppose them, and so he has never faced a Maoist threat.

He and his friends at Malkangiri have also formed a group to add a practical benefit to the surveys. They collect used clothes, blankets and household goods for the needy, and hand them over during visits.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 1:07:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/odisha-engineer-surveys-cut-off-regions-of-malkangiri-on-horseback-to-build-new-roads/article30042658.ece

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