Amlashol: Unkept promises of development and lessons for Lalgarh

July 7, 2009

It was only five years ago that a village in the Jangalmahal of West Bengal hit the headlines – Amlashol. Today, another part of the Jangalmahal called Lalgarh is receiving lavish promises of development in the wake of a massive revolt. “Rapid implementation” of developmental schemes is being promised to the people of Lalgarh.

It is necessary to study Amlashol’s journey – because five years ago there too the government had promised a plethora of developmental schemes, in the same manner.

June 2004. Five Adivasis die of hunger and malnutrition in Amlashol village, under Banshpahari Panchayet, Belpahari Block, West Bengal. This incident rocked Bengal politics at the time. The government drew up a list of “left-behind” villages. Over 8,000 villages were on that list. Tens of millions of rupees were declared to be set aside for these underdeveloped villages.

After five years, Amlashol remains Amlashol. The outskirts may have changed a bit, but inside it’s still the same darkness.

Mountains and jungles on all sides. An undulating village on the border of Puruliya and Jharkhand. To reach Amlashol is perhaps not as difficult as before – there is a 21 km paved road from Belpahari to Kankrajhore, built under the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojna. From Kankrajhore to Amlashol is 2.5 km – that road is still earthen. And after that the road simply disappears. One has to go through jungle paths to reach the village.

Kailash Munda was a CPI(Marxist) member of the Banshpahari Panchayat who first brought to light the death of the five Adivasis. He was subsequently expelled from the CPI(M) and is now very far away from a political life. He spends half the year in Andal as a casual labourer in a factory. The other half he spends in Kankrajhore, a labourer on a sliver of land. Kailash says “Politics today means taking care of personal fortunes. It means telling lies, making capital from the suffering of people. You see – five years have passed, and nothing has happened in Amlashol.”

According to government statistics, there are 86 families in Amlashol. Of them, 65 are Adivasis. Of these 65 families, 19 belong to the Sabar community.

The 30 hectares of land in Amlashol are totally monocrop. There is farming three months a year, depending on the rain. For the rest of the year the only work available is picking shaal leaves from the forest or making ropes from babui grass. Most inhabitants do not own any land.

Under the NREGA 100 day rural work scheme, Amlashol received an average of 10 days of work last year. Lakshmikanta Munda, Malati Sabar, and others informed us that 70 people had applied for work under NREGA on May 21 of this year. Nobody got work.

Babulal Sabar, Mohan Sabar, Sanatan Sabar don’t even have job cards. Ajit Sabar, Sunil Sabar and others don’t have ration cards either. The ration dealer Sunil Manki tells us something peculiar – in some families, the father is BPL (Below Poverty Level) and the son is APL (Above Poverty Level). Haripada Munda gets 1.25 kg of rice every week, at the rate of Rs. 2 per kilo – but his son Duryadhan doesn’t even get rice!

Only 8 people have Antyoday Scheme cards. Only 9 elderly people receive an Adivasi pension. 5 self-help groups had been created but don’t exist any more.

Sanatan Munda had died of hunger in 2004. His wife Sakuntala says “There is no work here. My 18-year old son has left for Bangalore, to find work as a labourer”. Samay Sabar had died of hunger in 2004. His wife says “Half the days we don’t have anything to cook. We cannot cut trees in the forest. Picking leaves and making ropes doesn’t fetch anything. The moneylenders buy everything for nominal prices”.

Homes were built by the administration for 17 of the 19 Sabar families. What is their condition? Basanti Sabar retorts “Everybody takes us for fools and cheats us. The houses have collapsed in the rains.”

The grocer Tamal Das doesn’t keep puffed rice. “Who’ll buy it anyway”!

4 ponds were dug for irrigation purposes. They don’t have water. There is no arrangement for receiving irrigation water from these ponds. There are waterfalls in the mountains nearby – they could have been dammed and used. The administration didn’t do that.

Only 3% of houses have sanitation.

Kankrajhore, 2.5 km away, has a health center where there’s supposed to be a doctor three times a week. Only health workers are present. A new house has been built for the health center but there is no chance for it to be functional.

The only primary school has a single teacher. There are 26 students. There is no regular attendance on either side.

The current Panchayat member belonging to Jharkhand Party, Dulari Hembram, is quite candid. “What can a mere Panchayat member do? A change in the situation needs the drive of the government and the administration”. On the other hand, the BDO of Belpahari, Bhaskar Pal, says “The elected members of the Panchayat don’t want to do anything. Even if the administration wants to, it isn’t possible for development to reach Lalgarh. Amlashol is far from the Panchayat office and the path is difficult. The Panchayat has cast it aside”.

Amlashol therefore remains Amlashol, year after year. A Lalgarh is created.

This article originally appeared in The Ananda Bazaar Patrika and has been translated by Kuver Sinha, Sanhati.

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