KOLKATA: Palanquin or palki, once the transport mode for zamindars and brides, has become a life-saving facility for residents living in the ‘shadow zone’ of Alipurduar’s Buxa area where 3,000 odd indigenous tribes reside in 11 villages without having access to motorable roads.
Since the environment ministry does not permit building of any concrete structure, including roads or mobile towers in the Buxa Tiger Reserve, district magistrate Surendra Kumar Meena took the unique initiative to utilise the century-old transport mode as an ambulance to carry sick people and pregnant women to the local healthcare centre.
“The villages are located at a height of 4,600 ft above sea level in core areas of the forested rocky zone. I saw sick people and pregnant women being carried in sacks and the plight of the people touched me. While interacting with the villagers to find a solution, we adopted the idea of launching palanquin- ambulance service,” said Meena.
For a long time, the villagers used to carry sick people and pregnant mothers living near the India-Bhutan border on makeshift stretchers made out of sacks, clothes and bamboo sticks. With Meena’s innovative idea, the nightmarish journey through narrow rocky forest paths of expecting mothers in labour is now a thing of the past.
The unique service was launched early this year with two palanquins stationed in the remote villages. “The goal is to station one palanquin in each village and cover the whole 11 villages with this facility,” said Meena.
While transporting a pregnant mother, a trained nurse, midwives living in the local villages, accompany the palanquin ambulance and volunteers from the villages carry it to a point which has a concrete road from where an ambulance provided by the state health department takes the patient to the local healthcare centre and, if necessary, to the Alipurduar district hospital which is 35 km away.
The new service appears to be a lifeline for many women who are expecting. They knew what plight a pregnant woman had to face to reach the local healthcare centre. Earlier, the villagers had to trek for over two hours along the difficult terrain.
The free-of-cost initiative has brought smiles to the faces of would-be mothers in the area as many from the area availed the facility and returned home with their newborns without facing hardship. The service is being provided by the district administration with assistance from the Family Planning Association of India.