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KASHIPUR – Loaded with Political Promises
"Home to starvation deaths, malnutrition and bureaucratic apathy, Kashipur has been relentlessly facing the wrath of nature in the form of flood and droughts. The people struggling to survive still remember the promises of Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of ruling UPA."
HNF Bureau : June 3, 2007
People of Kashipur Block in the Rayagada District accorded a warm welcome to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi during their visit. Many of them have passed away and most of the deceased were victims of malnourishment, described as death due to inedible consumption by our witty bureaucrats. A lot others migrated since long abandoning their hamlets losing their names in the voter list. As fortune would have it, the rest of the famished survivors are still hoping and eagerly waiting for another visit of Sonia Gandhi expecting that she (Sonia) would recognize them and fulfill the commitments she has made eighteen nearly 2 decades back.
In the later half of 1980s, Kashipur hogged the national media for its shameful starvation deaths, child sale, acute poverty, health hazards and high infant mortality which made the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visit Kashipur with wife Sonia. However, to the contrary of their imagination of Kashipur, they witnessed great fanfare and a grand rally dedicated to them during their trip from Kashipur to Tikiri. Overwhelmed with it, en route to Tikiri, both Rajiv and Sonia made several commitments to the poor and needy villagers. But sad to say, they all went on air instead of motivating or forcing any of the officials or leaders, representative of people, so to say, to transform them into reality. The only change that has appeared is in the geographical map where the district headquarters has been swapped from Kalahandi to Rayagada via Koraput. All these changes are made for political expediency (?), as explained by the State Government.
”The poor villagers of Kashipur awoke the whole night on the eve of the visit of Rajiv and Sonia in a state of frenzied excitement and expectation; Rajiv and Sonia’s visit would transform their lifestyle. They were sure that most, if not all, of their problems like health, sanitation, employment would be solved. On account of this, it would obviate the necessity of them to trudge several KMs to walk. Some still remember the discussion among villagers on the eve of the royal visit - “please be sure that things in our village will improve a great deal. Don’t you see the electrification works, drinking water provisions, piling up of coal tar for macadamized roads, arrival of a team of doctors with medicines and never before promptness of top level bureaucrats in order to give our village the much deserved facelift that again much prior to the visit of Rajiv!
“During the visit, Sonia Gandhi gave a patient hearing to the problems and issues explained by the village women. In sympathy to the woes of people, Rajiv nodded to all the grievances, understood or misunderstood, and directed the accompanying leaders and bureaucrats to do the needful, perhaps, without a time frame. The villagers were sure of seeing innumerable programmes immediately after for alleviation of poverty, generating employment opportunities, reducing mortality rate and ensuring a healthy survival to these people neglected since long.” This was the version of 52-year old women Lachhamani of Rengelasili village, who was equally excited with the ceremonial visit.
Recalling the experiences of those days Krushna Dishari of Nuagaon village says, “After the departure of Rajiv and Sonia, all doctors and local administrative officers fled back. The villagers believed that the officials had gone back to rest for a couple of days because of fatigue”. Further he added that, “the villagers believed that these highly placed officials had gone to see them (Rajiv and Sonia) off and get a colossal sum of money for the development of our village. To their frustration, a week later, all other equipments and materials that had come to impress the Gandhi couple started vanishing one by one. When a driver of the P.H.D. was queried, he was quite impertinent to mention that the villagers were lucky enough to have all those for eight long days of Rajiv and Sonia’s departure. That very year, my four-year old daughter Labanya and 20 other villagers from the immediate near vicinity succumbed to death as victims of diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid. Many others left the village to ensure their survival. Having nobody of their own to look after, many people passed away.”
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Not only Krushna Dishari, the villagers Kamalu Pujari, Lakhmi Dishari, Lachhma Bagi, Bibhisana Bagi, Dhulia Pradhan, Fakira Majhi and Jairam of Ondirakonch, Konchuguma, Paikupakhal, Karanjikupakhal, and Kutakhal till date are expectantly awaiting Sonia’s next visit to Kashipur. “We all had utmost confidence that Sonia and Rajiv’s visit would eliminate the way leading to the host of fatal diseases during every monsoon and bringing the wave of cry and frustration to our families. Further, no child would have to lose his parents. But, to prove us wrong, there is the rally of death every year – mostly due to due to undernourishment and absence of even a single doctor and non-availability of medicines in the PHCs.
Moved by the misery of people, we asked a political worker of a ruling party and asked, “What your local MLA and MP and other political leaders including you, are doing for the betterment of the people of this area?” The reply was shocking. The low-line political agent’s reply was, “High profile politicians are seen only once in five years, that is before elections. Thereafter they just play the vanishing game. Whatever is done is seen only on pen and paper. To be honest, whatever funds are allocated for development works are pocketed by all political workers, irrespective of parties. The bulk of the sanctioned amount is siphoned of by Contractors, NGOs and other petty government officials.”
The question arises in the minds of the intelligentsia is whether the much publicized Rajiv and Sonia’s visit was simply a publicity gimmick? However, it is learnt that around 60 crores of rupees have been allotted by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and another Rs.40 crore by Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) to Kashipur Block on insistence of the then PM Rajiv Gandhi. The main objectives were, improvement of roads, communication, irrigation facilities - dams and canals, agricultural market, afforestation and above all, community development that are all invisible in the place.
The target communities often allege that, villagers having traditional expertise are never taken into confidence and not at all consulted nor the participation of people is sought ever to implement these developmental activities. Rather, fraudulent deals and financial irregularities have ruined the life of many. Community development activities have been limited to high profile bureaucratic visits, seminars and symposia that are useful to pseudo-activists and of no use to targeted people. The rapid deforestation in the districts in the name of industrialization and development is the living example of afforestation programmes run by the concerned department in the district. Where did the money go? Who looted the huge amount came for these miserable people? Is it the guardians of public administration, or the political leaders who claim them-selves to be the responsible representative of these communities, contractors, the NGOs, or somebody else?