Once infamous for starvation deaths, Podapadar today does not paint a picture of neglect. Be it roads, sewerage system, a high school or electricity, the village located just 30 km away from the block headquarters of Kashipur has every thing. Livelihood, however, is the biggest concern for people of Podapadar that once recorded the highest number of starvation deaths in Odisha. Villagers continue to depend on non timber forest produce including Mahua flowers to eke out living as Government schemes except the subsidised rice have failed to reach the village that comes under Rayagada Assembly constituency.
The village is connected to block and district headquarters, which is 100 km away, by a strong network of national highway, state highway and PMGSY rural roads. While a colourful anganwadi centre stands in the middle of the village, a hostel for SC and ST students is located on the outskirts. Podapadar evolved in the late 80s when Government shifted its focus on the village following at least 50 starvation deaths. But the evolution had little effect on the livelihood of people, who today depend on the `1 rice and Mahua flowers for sustenance.
Almost all the village women collect Mahua and other NTFP which are sold by men of the village in weekly haats. While Mahua ensures them livelihood for six months, they depend on cultivation of ragi and paddy for the rest months. In the absence of employment, at least 50 youths including girls have migrated to South Indian states in search of work. Jaya Majhi, a local youth, said they do not get benefits of Nirman Shramik Kalyan Yojana (NSKY) of the State Government as middlemen demand Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 per head to enrol them as beneficiaries.
Dhanamati Majhi, who had lost her husband to starvation in 1988, and many other elderly persons like her do not get old age pension due to faulty registration of their age during enumeration of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) cards. During enumeration, the village was under Laxmipur constituency but later brought under Rayagada constituency. A majority of the 500 voters in Podapadar have voter ID cards that were issued in 1994. All these ID cards mention Laxmipur Assembly constituency and no new cards have been issued till date. The EPIC cards have not been revised either.
Elderly villagers recalled that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had come to Kashipur block after the starvation deaths but did not visit Podapadar. Subsequently, International Funding for Agricultural Development (IFAD) arrived in the village to look into socio-economic development of people but its initiatives had little impact.
At least 150 families reside in the village which has two streets, Adivasi Sahi and Harijan Sahi. The villagers, mostly comprising tribals and Dalits, have traditionally supported the BJD and rejected Congress. Villagers have a soft corner towards the BJD as it initiated infrastructure development in the village which the Congress did not do during its tenure. They also know the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi but the villagers are not aware of any of the Central schemes.
Despite their allegiance to BJD, villagers have decided to hold a meeting soon to chose whom to vote this time. Their votes will go to the leader who promises them employment, drinking water and old age pension. Although the poll dates have been announced, no politician nor candidate has yet reached Podapadar. The Rayagada Assembly constituency will go to polls on April 11. The BJD has fielded sitting MLA Lal Bihari Himirika for the seat while BJP has nominated Basanta Ulaka and Congress Appalswamy Kadraka from the seat.