BHAWANIPATNA: In the last five years, villagers of Gampenu have not seen any politician nor any development. Surrounded by hills on three sides and tucked in a lush green forest, the Kutia tribal village, just 11 km away from Bhawanipatna town, is still cut off from mainstream, thanks to lack of a road. One has to walk through five hills to reach the village from Bhawanipatna. And thus, rarely do politicians or Government officials visit this village under Gundri gram panchayat of Lanjigarh Assembly constituency.
Villagers have to walk down the hill for five km to reach Ichapur to catch a bus. In fact, despite being 11 km away from Bhawanipatna, Gampenu’s block headquarter is located at Biswanathpur, 50 km away.
Construction of a road from Sarlanji to Gampenu was initiated on December 1, 2018 and was to be completed by January 31 this year. The Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) sanctioned `5 lakh for the purpose but work has been moving at a snail’s pace.
In the absence of a road, healthcare has not reached the villagers and they have to depend on traditional healers. The ANM comes to the village once in a blue moon and we have to carry our children to Gundri anganwadi centre to immunise them, said Tula Majhi, a villager.Cultivation of pulses and millets through shift cultivation is their mainstay. Some villagers collect firewood from the forest and also prepare bamboo baskets which are bartered in villages below the hills for rice. Subsidised rice is available in Gundri gram panchayat, which is three km down the hill, but villagers find it difficult to get down the hills during the monsoon months.
During the lean period, they depend on various roots and fruits that they collect from the forest. Villagers have to rely on streams to collect drinking water as the lone tube-well pumps out water high on iron content which is unfit for consumption.
Gampenu does have a primary school that was set up in 2009 but the structure is made of tin sheets with an asbestos roof which makes it difficult for children to sit inside the classrooms during summer.“Our village has never been a concern for any of the politicians here. We have never seen any politician coming here and why would they? Who would walk through hills to seek votes from such small number of voters. During the last panchayat election, some sarpanch and samiti member candidates had come but we never saw them after the polls,” said 45-year Dambru Majhi. Luckily, the village got solar panels in last summer which light up houses in the night.
Sambaru Majhi, 60, said voting is a thankless duty that they perform. “Supporters of candidates come to the village and promise us benefits of Government schemes. But everything is forgotten immediately after the election results are announced,” he said.
Only one youth of the village Nabin Majhi is employed. Educated till Class IX, he supervises a small nursery raised by Forest Department in another village and gets a monthly remuneration of `3,000. Interestingly, he is the only source of information about political parties and leaders for the villagers. There is no television or radio in the village and Nabin’s mobile provides them information about Naveen Patnaik and Narendra Modi.
Bhumisutta Majhi, an 18-year-old girl, is the first youth of the village to study in a college. Asked who would she vote, Bhumisutta parried the question with a smile. A student of Hiranila College at Biswanathpur of Lanjigarh block, she does not yet know about any of the politicians or their political parties. “I have never come across any,” she says.