JHARGRAM: Both nature and the state have been cruel to the tribals in Jungle Mahal. While the soil is hard and rocky, the administration has provided no irrigation to these village folks. Only one crop is grown here annually, unlike in other fertile regions of West Bengal. The poor tribals work for only two months annually on farms during the monsoon.
In the last eight years of TMC rule, things have changed little for the Lodha and the Shabar tribals in this Bengal—Jharkhand border region, except for some roads, school buildings and vocational training centres and the announcement of welfare schemes. Funds for the welfare schemes, including the Bangla Awas Yojana (housing schemes for the BPL families), became a source of quick money for the
“Six years ago, three water reservoirs with sub-marshall pumps were set up. They stopped providing water after six months. This is because of poor material used in the project and local leaders siphoned off the major chunk of the sanctioned cost as cut money. Forty families at our village depend on a pond for drinking water in cases the only tube-well breaks down,’’ said Lakshmimoni Murmu of Joram village, 15 km from the Belpahari block headquarters.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee never misses an opportunity to mention that her government is giving rice at Rs 2 per kg to more than 8.5 crore people. But a considerable chunk of the rice remains stored in the godowns of ration dealers and Trinamool leaders. “I am entitled to get eight kg rice per week, but I am allotted four kg. I buy the rest of my need at Rs 22 per kg from local ration dealers and Trinamool leaders. They are hoarding the ration stocks,’’ said Pramila Sabar, a mother of three.
Most of the tribals in Bengal’s most backward region depend on forests for survival as they do not earn enough to buy rice. Along with the men, women and children go to dense forests to look for eggs of kurkut (wild ant) or sukanda (a bulbous vegetable).
In Jhargram district, a no-industry zone, nearly 70% of the total 11.36 lakh population lives below the poverty line. More than 90% of the poor population remains jobless for 10 months in a year. Children go to primary schools for the mid-day meal scheme. Most of them stop pursuing higher education due to abject poverty.
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“Cut-money payments to local TMC leaders typically amount to 10-15% of the total cost of any government construction project in Bengal. About the same proportion is skimmed off by TMC leaders from public transfers through welfare schemes such as Kanyashree, Rupashree or house-building subsidies,’’ said Indranil Dasgupta, an economics professor at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata.
Jhargram College principal Debnarayan Roy said poverty and corruption have co-existed for several decades in this region. “The Centre is granting more funds for this backward region and it is helping local political leaders to become rich day by day, instead of helping the poor.’’
In Jungle Mahal, the outlawed outfit CPI (Maoist) and other elements had made inroads due to the evils of corruption under the Left rule. The zone saw several protests involving thousands of tribals in 2009-2011.
Before the 2011 Assembly elections, the Maoists did not allow any political party to campaign in the area other than the Trinamool. Later, the Maoists became Mamata’s rival as she did not withdraw security forces from Jungle Mahal as was promised by her in the pre-poll campaigns. The Reds retreated after Kishanji was gunned down in an encounter five months after Mamata came to power and a major chunk of its foot-soldiers joined the Trinamool’s lower brigade.
In the 2013 panchayat elections, many of them were elected and got involved in widespread corruption depriving the poor.
After the Maoists and the TMC, the anger against corruption helped the BJP to make inroads in the area. The BJP bagged three Parliamentary seats this year from the area. BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh asserted the people in Jungle Mahal voted for the BJP because of the corruption among the TMC leaders that forced the poorest of the poor to bleed profusely.