They boycott elections demanding connectivity

Villagers crossing Mahanadi river in a country boat at Kudgunderpur near Sambalpur.

Villagers crossing Mahanadi river in a country boat at Kudgunderpur near Sambalpur.  

Satyasundar Barik

Some 7,000 residents of six villages decide to boycott elections in future too

SAMBALPUR: At a time when every public personality is urging people to cast their votes to strengthen the democracy, some 7,000 residents of an island comprising six villages, about 35 km from here, have decided not to vote in any future elections until government makes them free from decades-long remoteness.

These villagers have a single point demand; ‘construct a bridge and connect them with the mainland.’

For these 7,000 villagers, of which around 3,000 are voters, locked by water from all sides, this election had been a turning point in their life. When the region went to polls in the first phase on April 16, they had for the first time mustered courage and boycotted the election en masse.

These residents don’t know as to how much administration has moved by their action, but they are firm that nobody from the island will participate in future elections. What has made them take the drastic step? After 60 years of independence, a high school is still a dream for them. Students cross Mahanadi, largest river of Orissa, to avail higher education, which is Standard VIII. The island, which had connection with the mainland, got cut-off soon after a multi-purpose Hirakud dam was constructed on Mahanadi in 1950s. These six villages under one panchayat were immediately given a unique prefix, Kud (island), to save them from becoming nondescript. During campaign many leaders came and tried to bribe, but residents of villages such as Kudgunderpur, Kudmahada, Kudamlipali, Kudjampali, Kudtabada and Kudpatakhai never budged from their stance. on’t talk about education here. Luckier ones have gone outside this landmass and given their children education. Till date, government has managed to provide us schools which can accommodate students below Standard VIII only,” said Jagannath Purohit, who was elected sarpanch way back in 1984.

No health services

Education is not the lone casualty. Many people died and women gave birth to children on boats in the middle of river due to lack of health infrastructure. During past two decades, issues remained the same and residents were continuing cursing their fate, Mr. Purohit said.

“We don’t need developmental programmes for the next 20 years. Give us a bridge which will free us from decades-long remoteness,” 70-year-old Pitambar Pati pleaded.

Process of construction of the much sought after bridge on Mahanadi to connect villages was initiated in pen and paper in 1996. According to villagers, in past 13 years cost of the bridge has been revised twice or thrice but on ground no activity has been seen.

Once a clever politician successfully gauged sentiment and anger among these islanders and laid foundation stone for an iron bridge. But the bridge had never come up. “Democracy does not get strengthened by casting of votes, but affirmative welfare actions on ground can only make people feel that they are part of system,” Mr. Purohit said.

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