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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Satyadihi: A village in West Bengal’s Jhargram that votes on Saturday but has never seen its candidates

The villagers said they have never heard of any social welfare schemes announced by the Central or state governments as members of the village panchayat hardly pay them a visit.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Jhargram |
Updated: March 27, 2021 4:12:56 pm
Jhargram, Ujjwala scheme, Ujjwala Yojana, Jhargram schemes, ST candidates in West Bengal, Krishak Bandhu scheme, Central government schemes, West Bengal government schemes, indian expressBiswanath Midya, a resident of Satyadihi village near Jhargram, shows a half-made bamboo basket. (Express Photo: Santanu Chowdhury)

“Elections come and elections go, but nothing changes for us,” said Namita Middya, a resident of Satyadihi village which is just six kilometres from Jhargram town. This is not a huge distance, but when it comes to development, it lags ages behind. Let alone central and state government schemes bringing about development, the fact that they exist is not known to people of this village.

Carrying a bunch of firewood on her head, 60-year-old Bulu Middya negotiates a steep climb to get to her house in the village. Speaking to The Indian Express while walking back home, she says the wood is used as domestic fuel to prepare meals. When asked as to why she hasn’t opted for the PM Ujjwala Yojana which provides free LPG connections to families below the poverty line, the woman replies, “Ujjwala Yojana? Seta ki? Amara toh kokhono shunini. (What is that? We have never heard of any such scheme).”

When told about the Centre’s Ujjwala Yojana or state government’s ‘Krishak Bandhu’ scheme for farmers, they were surprised to learn that there were so many social welfare schemes for them.

Nilima Middya, a resident of Satyadihi village, shows a bamboo basket she has made. (Express Photo: Santanu Chowdhury)

“Members from the local panchayat hardly visit our village. They never share any information. How are we supposed to know that there are such schemes that are meant for us? Forget about leaders or candidates, only a few workers from political parties come here to put up flags. They tell us which party to vote for and leave,” Biswanath Middya, a small farmer of the village, said

He, too, had never heard of Mamata Banerjee’s ‘Krishak Bandhu’ or the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. The state government has not implemented PM Kisan Samman Nidhi schemes but ahead of the polls showed intention to implement it for willing farmers.

Deprived of help from both ends, village women use firewood from surrounding forests as domestic fuel while men make baskets from bamboo procured at high prices.

“I spend Rs 120 on a bamboo from which I can make around three big baskets or five medium baskets. I sell a small basket for Rs 12, a medium one for Rs 30 and a large one for Rs 80. After spending Rs 300-400 on bamboo, I make only around Rs 700-800 per week,” says Shyam Middya, who also sometimes plays drums in festivals to make Rs 300 per day and make ends meet.

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021 Namita Middya working on bamboo peels that are used to make baskets. (Express Photo: Santanu Chowdhury)

As they are ready to cast their ballot on Saturday, the villagers are yet to get a glimpse of those contesting from their constituency. “We have only seen their photographs in posters. It is like voting for someone invisible,” says Nilima Middya, who, too, makes baskets for a living.

Another group of women were seen collecting Sal leaves which is used for making traditional leaf plates. “We get anything between Rs 80 to Rs 200 for collecting and arranging 1,000 Sal leaves. The Mahajan we sell it to exploit us as there is no regulated structure of payment,” Saraswati Patar said. She added that it takes her a minimum of three days to collect 1,000 Sal leaves.

On Thursday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, during a rally in Purulia, had announced to implement the Minimum Forest Produce (MFP) for 49 items to ensure people get the right price for their products.

“If this gets implemented, there is a hope that we will get better prices for the forest produce. However, I feel nothing will happen and we have learnt to live like that,” Namita Middya added.

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