Kalahandi, Odisha: In 1984, Phanus Punji, the poor woman from Kalahandi in Odisha had sold her sister-in-law Banita for Rs 40 and a saree to feed other members of her family. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had to fly down to Kalahandi to see for himself the poverty in which people lived in.
The government then floated KBK (Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput) special scheme and pumped in huge funds. But, 30 years later, the gut-wrenching tale of Dana Majhi, who carried his wife’s body on his shoulders for 10 km as he had no money to afford a hearse van, has put Kalahandi back into the limelight.
Government schemes not implemented
Mr Majhi wouldn’t have had to go through the ordeal had he availed two government schemes. The Harishchandra Scheme by the government, that provides money for funerals for the poor and was introduced in 2013. And the Mahaprayan Scheme that provides free hearse service to transport bodies that was announced in February and launched after Majhi’s wife’s death.
Government figures from the last financial year show that spending under the Harishchandra scheme in Kalahandi is among the lowest even though the district ranks eleventh in terms of population.
This perhaps is why Dana Majhi, a tribal, took the decision to walk home with his wife’s body. The story is similar in the entire Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region, an area that has seen acute poverty. Mr Majhi admitted he did not know what to do and did not seek any help from anyone.
Tribals don’t receive money from National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme alleges Opposition:
Narsingh Mishra, Leader of Opposition from Bolangir said, “In Odisha, the payments under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme have not been made for the last six months. This is leading to more and more poverty in the region.”
Mishra said, “Funds for the development of this region have been misused and misappropriated. Therefore, the region has remained where it is.”
“In some cases, funds from this scheme have been used for purchase of vehicles and beautification of buildings in Bhubaneswar and some district headquarters. Will that eradicate poverty?” Mishra asked.
Politicians visit, schemes floated but no action on ground
In 2006, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj named Kalahandi as one of the country’s 250 most backward districts. In 2016, Kalahandi’s situation hasn’t got any better. According to government figures, Rs 3000 crore has been spent in the area since 1980s. Several schemes were announced in the past and high profile politicians had visited the place.
However, the region still lacks basic facilities like roads and telephone connectivity.
Former Railway minister and Congress leader Bhakta Charan Das told NDTV, “At a time when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking about digital India and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is talking about developing Odisha, we are seeing such a shameful incident where an adivasi walked 10 km with his wife’s dead body.”
The BJP Yuva Morcha also held a protest and said, “Naveen Patnaik only announces schemes but no work gets done. Rahul Gandhi comes here only to get photos but does no work on the ground.”
Maoist insurgency and the challenge of accessibility
For tribals in Kalahandi, accessibility is a huge challenge. Due to Maoist insurgency, building roads in these parts of the country is difficult. The last two years have seen 15 gun battles between Maoists and security forces.
With poor connectivity, Mr Majhi and his wife had to walk to Nagrundi, 4 km from his village from where the only available transport is a rickety bus to the main road.
Ramchandra Naik, a resident of the area told NDTV, “If someone is ill, they are carried on a makeshift stretcher on foot.”
District Magistrate and Collector Dr Brundha D said, “If you compare with the 1980s, a lot of development has taken place. We are focusing on road and mobile connectivity because if these two things happen, I can monitor all schemes and reach people closely.”
Despite the fact that fertile tracts of the district have shown improvement in socio-economic indicators, the implementation of schemes, programmes and services on the ground is the real challenge that the government faces today.