JHARGRAM: Madhu Bhokta does not have a shirt to wear, a shed to cover his wife and children’s head and enough money to ensure full course meal for them. Buying mustered oil to fry fish or vegetables, sometimes, is luxury to Madhu’s family. Madhu’s dilapidated hut collapsed in the ripple effect of Cyclone Fani in May and since then he has been living in the veranda of a neighbour. He managed to borrow money from a local money lender promising him to refund the sum by working at his house as a labourer and he bought asbestos sheds to construct a room.
“I applied for a house to the local gram panchayat but I was not granted fund to construct a home. I am waiting when they will respond to my plea,’’ said 42-year-old Madhu, wearing a gamcha (towel) and standing in front of a bamboo-pole structure that he has constructed to build up a hut.
Time passes by, but life stands still at Lodhapara, Madhu’s ancestral village inhabited by poor Shabar and Lodha tribals. Those who have been granted funds under the Bangla Awas Yojana, a scheme funded by both the Centre and the state, also have been living in their huts as the concrete structures do not have any roof.
At least 32 houses at Lodhapara village, which have been built up under the government’s scheme, have been lying unutilised as all are unfinished and have no roof. In most of the parts of the region dotted with forests, hillocks and swathes of uncultivated lands, Trinamool’s satraps collected cut money from the beneficiaries. But at Lodhapara, the ruling party’s local leaders collected the entire sum promising to help the poor to get their homes constructed.
“Our bank passbooks are with local TMC leaders. The grant for each houses is disbursed in three instalments. After the money was credited to our accounts, they took the money from us promising us to construct the houses. We trusted them. They told us we would not be able to procure constructions materials as most of us are illiterate. They collected the sum that we got in three instalments and duped us,’’ 28-year-old Biswanath Bhokta. The youth’s five-member family depends on his earning as a daily labourer which never crossed Rs 200 a day in past five years.
The local Trinamool leaders stopped visiting the village since past eight months. None of the beneficiaries at Lodhapara is aware of the chief minister’s dictate of returning cut money and the grievance cell that has been set up at the state secretariat with a toll-free contact number. Lodhapara is located barely 8 km from Jhargram district headquarters, where all modern amenities and recreation facilities, including air-conditioned bars and restaurants, English medium schools, five liquor shops and hotels, are available.
The tribals’ settlement has hardly witnessed any development in past two decades. Two wells cater drinking water to 55 families which dry up in summer. The nearest ration shop is around five km from the village and the poor tribals walk the stretch to collect rice at the price of Rs 2 per kg as they cannot afford Rs 14 to pay bus fare. From the village, a narrow lane leads to the metalled thoroughfare that connects Jhargram with Ghatshila and Jamshedpur. The Dahijuri gram panchayat is located at the entrance of the settlement.
“We see elected panchayat members visiting the panchayat office riding motorcycles. Even a few years ago, they did not have a bicycle. Now they have become rich people at the cost of our plight. Half of the construction of my house has not been completed and it has been lying unutilised,’’ said Nimai Mallick. “I work as a daily labourer for two months in a year, in monsoon. Rest of the time, I go to nearby forests to procure saal leaves and woods. I earn Rs 130 to Rs 180 per day which is not enough to support my wife and two children. I have no savings to complete the house.”
The plight of the Shabars and Lodhas is not unknown to local political bosses. “The previous Left Front government initiated several welfare schemes for the tribals in the region. They have been going through a nightmare since past few years as local corrupt leaders of the ruling party are depriving them of their basic rights,’’ said Dahareshwar Sen, the Jhargram district secretariat member of the CPI-M.
BJP’s observer in Jhargram Kundan Thakur said the party would start a mass-movement shortly. “We are collecting data and our party workers are in touch with the victim beneficiaries. We will bring all the victims under one umbrella and carry out a movement on a large scale,’’ he said. Sukumar Hansda, the local MLA and former minister of Western Region Development department, said he was not aware of the alleged irregularities at Lodhapara village. “I will ask my party leaders to inquire about the alleged corruption,’’ he said.tomorrow: