DEBRA: "There is no end to our sufferings," said Renuka Adhikary, an 84-year-old resident of Debra in West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur, who still has to walk two kilometres every day to fetch drinking water for her family.
Renuka lives with her daughter in a mud house in the Nanda Bari area on the bank of Kansabati -- though a river, it resembles a barren field in the summer months.
People of several neighbouring villages such as Pujanpat, Kolkuria, Chak Chandramer, Kankra Mohanpur and Gayaspur complained that they have to walk long distances every day to fetch clean water with many alleging that local TMC leaders were forcing them to buy drinking water from those "approved" by the party.
Humayun Kabir, a former IPS officer who resigned earlier this year as the Police Commissioner of Chandannagar in Hooghly to join politics, is the Trinamool candidate from the seat.
Kabir, pitching himself to be the "son of the soil", said that there was a need to resolve the water crisis immediately.
"Yes, there are some areas in our constituency where there are drinking water problems. We need to address this. But, it's just in a few blocks. Other areas are fine," he told PTI after a daylong door-to-door campaign.
Kabir said that though the Mamata Banerjee government has done a lot of development works in the area, there are scopes for more, especially building infrastructure such as constructions of roads, bridges and new hospitals.
"Debra, like other parts of West Bengal, has developed a lot but still it requires more development. There are scopes of constructing more roads. There are huge scopes for infrastructure development. We also need more hospitals and the locals badly need a bridge on the Kansabati river," he said.
Kabir, however, brushed aside the suggestion to brand the election in the seat as a fight between two former police officers -- the other being BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh, also a former IPS officer who gained prominence as the police chief of the district after TMC formed government in the state in 2011.
"I am a native of this land. I was born and brought up here in Marhtala and I know this place like the back of my palm and you cannot compare me with Bharati. I am a very senior IPS officer and my record speaks for me. I do not think this is a battle between us," he claimed.
Ghosh, once considered close to the chief minister, said the people of Debra are waiting to give a befitting reply to the TMC, which, she alleged, has "cheated" them for the last ten years in the name of development.
"Our agenda is in our election manifesto. It will be implemented in totality. This area has been deprived completely. In the last ten years, everything came to a standstill here," she alleged.
"There is no drinking water supply in several areas. There are houses where there is no toilet. The majority of the houses are built of mud. The basic infrastructure is missing here. We have to build everything," she told PTI on the campaign trail.
Ghosh, who was promoted from the West Bengal Police Service to the Indian Police Service (IPS), has declared assets worth Rs 19 crore, making her the richest politician in the state to contest the elections.
She alleged that Kabir has been embroiled in "corruption" and is banking on appeasement politics for winning the elections.
"He is no match for me. His chances are zero here as he is not fit to contest against me," she claimed.
Ghosh, who once courted controversy by terming the chief minister as the "mother of Jungle Mahal", had resigned from the police service in 2017 after being removed as the district police chief and joined the BJP in 2019.
She fought that year's Lok Sabha elections from the Ghatal constituency, of which the Debra assembly seat is a part, as the BJP candidate but lost to Bengali superstar Dev, the TMC nominee, by a margin of 1,07,973 votes.
However, Ghosh ensured a BJP lead in the Debra seat by around 4,000 votes.
In the 2016 assembly elections, TMC's Selima Khatun (Bibi) won the seat, beating CPI(M)'s Jahangir Karim Sk.
This time, the Left-led alliance fielded CPI(M)'s Prankrishna Mondal from the seat.
Hitting out at both the TMC and BJP, he said youths of the area are fleeing to other states in search of jobs and his campaign is centred on the issue of unemployment.
"Unemployment is a raging issue in our area. Youths are going out of West Bengal. We need to stop it and that can only happen if job opportunities are created here. People want a change and we will win the elections," Mondal said, exuding confidence.
Sumanta Das, a 24-year-old BSc graduate who ferries ice cream on a cycle in the area, said lack of opportunities is forcing people to go to other states in search of jobs.
"There is no job opportunity here. I am a BSc graduate and have to do all the odd jobs to earn my livelihood. All the young people are either going to Kolkata or other states to look for jobs. Debra is full of old people whose children are away," he said.
Both Kabir and Ghosh agreed that unemployment was an issue of concern in the area with many migrant workers returning during the lockdown.
"The unemployment issue is very real. We have to garner more job opportunities for the locals and tap the talents. We will address it too. Once we win, our focus will be on the overall development of Debra," Kabir promised.
A few locals also alleged that though the state government was announcing several schemes for the poor, it was not reaching them.
"I lost my husband last year and have three daughters to look after. Where is the pension? I had approached a local TMC leader and he asked for cut money. Why should I have to pay him?" said Pushpa Halder, 37, a resident of Gayaspur.
Many residents of Nanda Bari also raised the drinking water issue, pointing to the only tubewell in the area which has not been working for long.
"I don't remember how long we have been waiting for proper drinking water supply to our area. Leaders come with promises before the elections and forget once the polls are over," Renuka said, sitting beside a few empty earthen pots outside her house.
"I have seen the Congress and the Left coming to power, but they never kept their words. It's the same with this Trinamool Congress government. There is no end to our sufferings," she added.
Many also alleged that local TMC leaders were making money out of their sufferings.
"We have to buy drinking water from people who are connected to the Trinamool Congress. How will we survive?" Nakuleswar Mondal, a paddy farmer in Pujanpat, questioned.
Denying the allegations, Khatun, the sitting TMC MLA, said development works have been uninterrupted ever since her party wrested the seat from the CPI(M) in 2011.
"The Left Front government did nothing for our area. We are fighting for the cause of the people but we have to do more," she said.
Spread over 342.41 sq kms, Debra has a total of 2,33,848 voters.
Of them, 1,16,948 are women, marginally higher than the number of male voters, which is 1,16,899.
Debra has 12 per cent Muslim voters, around 17 per cent are SC, while 23 per cent are tribals, as per official sources.