Reported by Sachikant Nath/Sanjay Kumar Das
Kendrapara, Mar 28:
It is hard to believe, but true nonetheless; even 68 years after independence, there still are places in Odisha that have never seen a government vehicle, an ambulance or a fire brigade come anywhere close to the area.
It is not as if these villages are located inside the dense forests or hilly terrain of tribal Odisha. They are in Kendrapara district, supposedly among the most developed districts of the state.
Batighar Panchayat, so named because of the Batighara (Light House) constructed during the British Raj, in Mahakalpada block of Kendrapara district is home to a whopping 10,000 people, almost 98 percent of them Bengali speaking.
While politicians, collectors, SPs, ministers and World Bank officials do visit the panchayat once in a while, for business or pleasure, they have to come on boats as there is no bridge connecting this water locked panchayat with the mainland.
While the Bay of Bengal covers 40 percent of the territory of this area, the rest 60 percent is covered by Kharinasi River. There are two ferrying points in the panchayat: Kharinasi ghat to reach Mahakalpada and Barakolikhola Ghat to reach Paradeep using locally made boats.
Maybe the VIPs who descend on the area occasionally love the ferry ride so much that they believe a bridge would spoil the fun!
Years ago, the late Nalini Mohanty had laid the foundation stone for a bridge on Kharinasi while he represented the area. But forget the bridge, even the foundation stone is not there anymore.
The 10 villages under this panchayat – Sanatubi, Badatubi, Uttar Khola, Dakshin Khola, Batighar, Nipania, Ramchandi, Khadibelari, Kochilabelari and Kajalapatia – don’t have propoer internal roads connecting each other either.
Most of the poor villagers live in thatched houses and fire accidents are quite common. When a fire mishap happens (which is quite often), the villagers have to extinguish it themselves as fire tenders cannot reach the village in the absence of anything resembling a road.
The condition of health services is even worse. Patients need to be ferried to the hospital in Mahakalpada or Paradeep after crossing the river by boats as ambulances can’t reach the village for the same reason that fire tenders cannot come. Since boat services are not available round the clock. lives are often lost because the patients cannot be taken to hospital in time. While there are about 2000 students in six schools, no one has ever got a health check up done.
After years of lobbying, the government has finally been grateful enough to supply electricity to the Panchayat only three years back. However, almost 90 percent of the population still lives in darkness.
Politicians do visit the area during elections and make as many promises as they can, but soon forget it post elections.
After all these years, the government is now ‘planning’ to build a bridge over Bahakud Ghat. The locals are looking forward to it despite the bitter memory of the earlier bridge that never was.