India: Criminal Apathy And Political Corruption Leads To Starvation
Tarun Kanti Bose
Udaynagar, Jalangi: When the monsoon sets in, from May to July, River Padma flows in full spate wreaking havoc for all those who ive along its eroding embankments in the Jalangi area.
Udaynagar Khanda Mauza, comprising the villages of Udaynagar, Suryanagar and Thakurnagar situated on the eastern banks of the river, were inhabited by more than 3000 people. But due to uncontrolled erosion since 1990, 1785.65 acres of land was swallowed up by River Padma and presently lies beneath the water surface. In fact, the devastation caused by the devouring Padma, has left thousands of villagers displaced, resulting in the loss of homes, livelihoods and lives. Entire villages are suffering from poverty. Fear and desperation are written largely on people's faces.
Additionally, the criminal apathy shown by the District Magistrate (DM), Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO), Block Development Officer (BDO), Block Relief Officer (BRO) and insensate political corruption of members of the Communist Party of India (CPI-M) especially the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Panchayat functionaries supporting the party, have aggravated the problem.
Nikhil Biswas who is the husband of Uttara Biswas—a member of the Sagarpara Gram Panchaya—said: “Now 503 families live in this resettlement colony without basic amenities such as water, electricity or toilets. Most families have built their huts either with polythene or thatched roofs, on grounds belonging to a primary school.”
He added: “When the District Magistrate, Narayan Manjunath Prasad visited our colony on October 1, 2005, he pretended to be unaware of the displacements caused by river erosion. He told us he and his people had not received any information about the plight of the villagers in Udaynagar, Suryanagar and Thakurnagar. Does this not show official callousness and criminal apathy?” Contrarily however, Mr. Biswas said many prominent local dailies had been regularly running stories about the plight of the villagers and of people facing starvation in many of these villages.
According to Mr. Biswas even the BDO Nakhul Chandra Mahato—who was accompanying the District Magistrate—claimed he had recently been transferred to Jalangi, so he did not know about the situation of the villagers. Hence he had lamely assured them he would look into the matter and try to get some relief for the villagers. But to date, little or nothing had been done.
Another villager, Anando Kumar Ray said: “We even met our Member of Parliament (MP), Mannan Hussain, and apprised him of our problems. We told him, merely distributing ten kilograms of rice or wheat won’t solve the problem. You see, the food grain is disbursed to BPL (below poverty line) families under the Annapurna Yojana Scheme. However, in the resettled villages of Udaynagar, Suryanagar and Thakurnagar, only 14 families benefit from this relief Scheme”. He added: “Even then, all the families benefiting from Annapurna Yojana are affiliated with the CPA(M) and have political clout. Actually some of these families are economically stable, for example Janardhan Mandal, a CPI(M) activist and beneficiary of the Scheme, has appropriated the ration of three families living in Billogram—in the Nadia district” Mr. Ray said.
An area resident Mangal Chaudhuri, said: “on November 30, 2005, a Gram Sansad (village parliament) was held in our village. Here, we proposed that Rs. 2,50,000 out of Rs. 5,40,000 should be utilised for carrying out anti-erosion work by dumping boulders near the river bank so that river erosion can be checked. But our Panchayat Pradhan (leader) and CPI(M) activist, Bhanumati Sarkar, rejected the proposal outright, without even discussing it.”
Faced with unemployment and starvation, 66 families migrated to other cities such as Delhi, Siliguri and Mumbai in search of livelihoods. Even women, who accompanied their husbands obtained work as domestic maids to lessen the economic hardships.
Also, more than 3000 displaced villagers are refugees from Bangladesh. They came to this area in the wake of the 1971 liberation. They were settled in Udaynagar Khanda Mauza and given patta of land for cultivation, by the Additional District Magistrate (Land Reforms). They are all dalits. They were afforded pattas on the instructions of the then Congress MLA, Abdul Bari Biswas during the tenure of the Siddharth Shankar Ray led Congress regime. After being displaced, now their remaining pattas have been forcibly occupied by farmers owing allegiance to CPI(M)’s MLA, Yunus Sarkar.
Said Bhuvan Chandra Mandal: “All the pattas have been grabbed by the community to which the MLA belongs; if continued unhindered, this will undoubtedly lead to communal unrest. Also, those who have acquired the pattas, just 6-7 kilometres from the Indo-Bangladesh border are involved in smuggling items such as garlic, onion, cows, medicines, automobile parts, sugar, rice, salts and lentils. Even arms smuggling goes on unabated. These activities are carried out under the overt and covert support of the CPI(M), MLA, BSF personnel, custom officials and local police. Whoever tries to resist is threatened, terrorised and even beaten.”
Thus, people have little option left. They have to either die of starvation or face brutal repression at the hands of the strong nexus between the CPI(M)-BSF-Police-BDO & smugglers.