While children in the city get ready to go back to school after summer vacation, for 15 children in Jambhulpada, a hilly tribal hamlet in Palghar’s eastern fringes, the coming four months will be a time to rejoice. The only Zilla Parishad school will remain shut until October. For the village elderly, however, there is reason to worry. “This is our story every monsoon,” septuagenarian Sanguni Damo Badur says as she stares at a barren trough that she knows will soon flood with heavy rains. Her wrinkled face creases further, “Over the years, I have lost count of the number of times we have asked for a bridge or at least a road to this village.”
Every monsoon four padas in Kurlod— Jambhulpada, Raipada, Sedasyachapada, Amdesyapada — remain cut from the entire district when heavy rains swell streams leaving padas sandwiched between steep hills on one side and the river on the other. A meeting between public works department (PWD) and district collector on Monday showed there are five such padas that get isolated during rains in Palghar, one of the tribal-dominated regions in Maharashtra.
“When there is an urgent need for medicines, men who know how to swim go across the river to closest primary health centre (PHC),” ASHA worker Ranjana Sonu Pophane said. Last year, there were three deliveries done at home by a local midwife in Jambhulpada. Villagers claim if a pregnant woman is critical, the only way to reach a hospital is to tie her to bamboo sticks and carry her uphill which takes an hour on foot before a 108 emergency ambulance can be reached.
“The golden hour is lost by then. In haemorrhage cases where there is heavy bleeding during delivery, nothing can be done,” Dr Ganesh Ahir, medical officer at PHC, said. In 2014, social activist Jayshree Bhore remembers death of a pregnant woman due to haemorrhage in a Jambhulpada hut during monsoons. “There was nothing we could do. Our NGO gives first aid to all such hamlets before monsoons but for critical cases, there is nowhere to go,” she adds.
Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA stocks four months of wheat and rice for children in the hamlet where currently at least four malnourished children reside. There is no Anganwadi in the hamlet. The local PHC gives her advance medicine supply for diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and water-borne infections. The padas have an estimated 300 population. “But immunisation of children, lactating or pregnant women is impossible during this time,” Bhore adds.
Jambhulpada has one zilla parishad school till fourth class where 15 children study under one teacher. The teacher stops coming from June until October fearing he may get drowned in the stream. Villager Jairam Sitaram claims they have made several representations in front of local politicians to construct a bridge connecting Kurlod to Jambhulpada.
In 2016, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked district authorities to submit a report identifying the hamlets that get isolated during monsoons and propose an action plan. Eight months after the order, the government is still gearing up to deal with yet another monsoon and there is no road network to reach these isolated hamlets.
“Since we cannot immediately construct roads or a bridge, for now we have supplied wheat and rice for next four months to all such hamlets. Our department will submit a report to state government for funds to improve connectivity,” Palghar collector Dr Prashant Narnawre said.
In 2016, Aarohan, an NGO, built a cement pathway connecting Kurlod and Jambhulpada. “But if water level rises beyond it, it will become useless,” says villager Shivaji Gode. State health minister Deepak Sawant claimed that a mapping of 108 emergency ambulance service has been done to connect sensitive regions with health posts.
Sitting outside his mud hut where sacks of rice— their treasured food for the next few months— lay preserved, Sitaram smiles, “We have lived our entire life waiting for a road. Our grandchildren have learnt to live with infection during every monsoon.”