Poverty-stricken Purulia grittily awaits another election

April 27th, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi By Soudhriti Bhabani
Purulia (West Bengal), April 27 (IANS) For 57-year-old Sheikh Babua, a rickshaw-puller in West Bengal’s Purulia district, the Lok Sabha polls hardly hold any importance. He believes there will be no change in his near “primitive” existence irrespective of who comes to power. But he is determined to vote nevertheless.

The district is now in the limelight after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi compared it to impoverished districts like Orissa’s Kalahandi and the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh.

Babua is hoping against hope that some development will take place.

“Political leaders make loads of promises before every election. But once the polls are over, we the common people are left empty-handed. Irrespective of who comes to power, no one provides us with employment and basic development facilities,” he said.

Babua says Purulia has seen hardly any development as far as education, electricity, water supply, irrigation or agriculture is concerned.

“Our people are starving. There’s no employment opportunity, no scope for education for our children as if we are living in a primitive world,” Babua told a visiting IANS correspondent.

Babua’s grievance found voice in Rahul Gandhi. “There is more hunger here than in the rest of the country. Is it not true?” Rahul said during an election rally Friday.

“The education level here is low. There are no signs of health facilities. The Maoists are active. It seems your Left (Front) government has forgotten you,” Rahul Gandhi said.

As per the 2001 census, the population of Purulia is more than 25 lakh (2.5 million), of which 89.93 percent live in the villages. About 40 percent of Purulia’s population lives below the poverty line on an average income of Rs.60 ($1.2) per day.

Cultivable land is predominantly mono-crop - mostly during the monsoon season. About 75 percent of the agricultural holding belongs to small and marginal farmers having scattered and fragmented small holdings.

“There is no drinking water in the rural belt. In our village there are just a few deep wells from where we get the drinking water. We have repeatedly requested the local legislator and the MP but they paid no heed to our appeals,” said Subhendu Mahato of Arsha village, 30 km from Purulia town.

“We can’t even cultivate our farmland because of the water crisis. There’s no proper irrigation system in our village. In a word, anyone can call Purulia a hunger-heartland,” he said.

In 2004, the ruling Left Front-nominated Forward Bloc candidate Bir Singh Mahato won from the Purulia Lok Sabha constituency with more than 70 percent vote share.

Narahari Mahato of the Forward Bloc later won from here in a by-election necessitated by the death of Bir Singh.

Prabhat Mahato, a Forward Bloc legislator from Arsha, says that the district has 129 backward villages while the Jhalda-II block comes last in the country in women’s education.

But Prabhat Mahato refuses to be bogged down by the figures.

“A lot of industries are coming up in north Purulia. Three big steel projects by the Jindal Group, Balaji Group and Shyam Steel are coming up.

“To boost agriculture, small irrigation projects are being implemented, while two polytechnic colleges have come up for giving vocational training to the youth. Besides, funds have been provided to a large number of self-help groups to ensure employment,” he says.

Congress nominee in Purulia Lok Sabha constituency Shantiram Mahato, who is also backed by the principal opposition in the state the Trinamool Congress, refuses to buy such arguments.

“The Left Front government has done nothing for this region. The district is grossly neglected and people are deprived of minimum facilities required for their daily lives,” he said.

As politicians slug it out in the blame-game, Babua, the rickshaw-puller, waits for April 30 to cast his vote.

(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at soudhriti.b@ians.in)

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