Poll-bound Uttar Pradesh has a road network of over 300,000 km. But that means nothing to over 40,000 predominantly tribal residents of 13 villages in Matwar gram panchayat of Mirzapur who do not have a motorable road. The lack of roads adversely impacts the villagers as they struggle to access education, health facilities, markets and employment avenues. Now, they have threatened to boycott the upcoming assembly elections unless their gram panchayat gets a tar road.
Hallia (Mirzapur), Uttar Pradesh
On January 8, the collector office at Mirzapur, about 290-km from the state capital Lucknow, echoed with slogans: ‘Road nahin to vote nahin’ (No road, no vote). A group of villagers, many of them from the Kol adivasi community, had assembled at the district headquarters demanding a pakki sadak (metalled road) to their gram panchayat.
The protesting villagers complained that despite more than seventy years of the country’s independence, the 13 hamlets in their Matwar gram panchayat with a population of 40,000 did not have a motorable road. All the requests for a proper road had so far fallen on deaf ears, the villagers said.
The 13 hamlets whose residents suffer due to lack of connectivity with the block headquarters are — Majhigaon, Nadna, Harra, Katayi, Barua, Aura, Rampur Nudeeha, Kushiyara, Belahi, Parsiya Kala, Sagra, Matihara and Badauhi. Being a predominantly tribal area, these villages are surrounded by forests. And this is coming in the way of the Matwar gram panchayat getting a tar road.
“It’s been too long. We have endured a lot. We want our kids to have a better future, this time this entire gaon panchayat would not vote if we don’t get the road,” Aagat Singh, a resident from Nadna hamlet, told Gaon Connection.
A month from now, between February 10 and March 7, seven-phased assembly elections are set to be held in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh. But rural citizens in Matwar gram panchayat of Hallia block in Mirzapur have announced boycotting the elections.
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“Girls cannot pursue education as going to school and coming back home takes more than twelve hours. Those who go, leave at nine in the morning and return home at nine at night. Women’s safety is a big issue in our area due to the lack of a proper road,” Anil Singh Bisen, 26-year-old resident of the Nadna village, who had come to the collector office to protest, told Gaon Connection.
Describing the hardships of the local people, Bisen further said: “There have been multiple instances where pregnant women have delivered on their way to the health centre. The road is so bumpy that it can easily lead to garbhpaat (miscarriage). Do grameen log (rural residents) have no dignity?”
This isn’t the first time that the residents of Matwar gram panchayat have raised the issue of lack of roads in their area.
“I remember when I had visited the area to campaign for the last assembly election, the villagers had told me about their problems which were centered around the absence of a road,” Rahul Prakash Kol, the local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) from the Apna Dal Party — which is an ally of the ruling BJP — told Gaon Connection.
“The procedure to get the road clearance from the central government is underway. We have sent a proposal for road construction in the forest land and as soon as the Centre approves it, the road construction will begin,” the MLA assured.
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However, villagers say they have little faith in these pre-election promises. “I must have been five-years-old when this country attained independence. Since then, I have not had the sukh (joy) of a pakki sadak,” Naanhu Kol of Harra hamlet in Matwar gram panchayat, told Gaon Connection.
Naanhu doesn’t know his exact age but he clearly remembers running around his village with his friends on the morning of August 15, 1947 celebrating swatantrata from angrezi hukumat (freedom from British rule). “We have suffered enough. Now it is too much. This time, we will not vote in the coming elections if we don’t get the road,” an angry Naanhu Kol, an adivasi, said.
Abhay Yadav, a district-level functionary of the Samajwadi Party pointed out that there were many more villages where lack of village roads remains a huge concern. “There are many such areas like Hallia where the roads have not been built since this country got independence. The roads that are built are prone to accidents and hamper the economic development of the district,” Yadav told Gaon Connection.
From accessing healthcare, ensuring education of their children, easy access to markets and administrative centres to maintenance of law and order — all hopes and aspirations of these 40,000 rural residents of Matwar gram panchayat in Mirzapur rest on the construction of a 25 km long motorable road.
The nearest town – Hallia block headquarters – which has schools, community health centre, government offices and the market is situated more than two dozen kilometres away. The primary health centre (PHC) is 25 kms away.
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According to Mirzapur’s district magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar, some patches of land on which the road is to be constructed fall within the control of the forest department and that is leading to the delay in the road project.
“I’m aware that people are protesting against the absence of roads in Hallia. These people have been informed that due to the lack of an approval by the forest department and the Union government we are unable to get the road construction started,” Laxkar was quoted in media reports.
When Gaon Connection contacted the district forest officer of the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, through which the road is supposed to pass, he informed that the public works department (PWD) had not sought any permission from the forest department yet.
“PWD has to seek permission from the forest department if the road is to be built. I am aware that a proposal by the PWD is getting prepared but it hasn’t reached us so far,” Ashutosh Jaiswal, district forest officer, Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary clarified to Gaon Connection.
While the road is stuck in bureaucratic delays, the local people continue to suffer. “It takes saadhe teen ghanta (three and a half hours) on a motorcycle to cover these twenty five kilometres to the block headquarters. You can imagine our sufferings,” Naanhu Kol said.
Women of the Matwar gram panchayat are particularly angry about the endless delays in road construction. “Many women have died on the way to the hospital. Imagine being in labour pain and having to survive four hours on a bad, bumpy road,” lashed out 35-year-old Bhagwanti Devi of Kushiayara village. “Sab neta log luterey hain, sab paisa kha lete hain. Jab tak road nahin banega hum vote nahin denge,” she added. (All politicians are robbers, they embezzle all public money)
The Government of Uttar Pradesh has a long-term programme to improve the Core Road Network (CRN) and as part of this programme, the state government has been receiving funds from the World Bank. This fund is being used for improving safety engineering management systems and practices throughout the PWD.
As per the Uttar Pradesh PWD website, the entire 7,550 km length of national highways within the state are not included in this CRN project. Overall, the state has approximately a road network of 300,000 km, out of which 173,000 km is under the state PWD.
The roads under PWD comprise 7,550 km of national highways, 7,530 km of state highways, 7,544 km of major district roads, 39,245 km of other district roads, and 118,166 km of village roads.
Only about 60 per cent of state highways are double lanes. In the entire state, 62 per cent of major district roads and 83 per cent of other district roads have width less than seven metres.
In a report titled Road Accidents in India 2019, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways stated that road accidents are found to be more common and lethal in the rural areas of the country as compared to the urban centres.
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“Both road accidents and accident related killings are more a rural phenomenon than an urban phenomenon. Thus in 2019, the share of number of person killed in urban and rural area was 32.9 per cent and 67.1 per cent,” the ministry’s report noted.
The report also mentioned that Uttar Pradesh accounts for the highest number of deaths in road accidents in India with 22,655 fatalities.
Last month on December 21, Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari inaugurated three portions of the national highway 7 (NH-7) in Mirzapur which covers a length of 146 kilometers.
“We are committed to the development of Uttar Pradesh. These road projects will give a boost to the development of the state and provide better connectivity in the region,” the Union Minister said during the inauguration ceremony.
But one out of the three portions of the highway is yet to be completed. The 35 kilometres long portion of the highway which connects Ramnagar in Varanasi district with Mirzapur’s Dagmagpur remains to be constructed.
Local villagers are upset with the inauguration of an ‘incomplete’ project. “The road is not complete yet. I don’t know why it was inaugurated,” Kamla Devi, a resident of Bhaisod Balay Pahad village, told Gaon Connection. Her hopes for the water supply rest on the road. “My entire village doesn’t have a regular supply of water and we depend on water tankers for our daily needs. I hope this road helps me in getting a regular water supply,” she added.
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“The road between Dagmagpur and Ramnagar is not yet complete due to the delay in the land acquisition process. The project will be completed by June, this year,” Sanjiv Kumar Singh, senior coordination manager of Dileep Buildcon Limited, the private real estate company who has been awarded the tender to complete the project, informed Gaon Connection.
Opposition parties are making incomplete and bad roads an election issue. Talking about the recently inaugurated four national highways projects worth Rs 30.37 billion in Uttar Pradesh with a total length of 146 kilometers, the Samajwadi Party leader and spokesperson Anand Bhadauria stated that the project’s inauguration without completion shows BJP’s desperation and insecurity for the upcoming elections.
“This highway project has merely been inaugurated to make a fake exhibition of development. The project is not complete at all. This hasty inauguration of incomplete projects is a desperate attempt to attract voters somehow,” the Samajwadi Party leader added.
The issue of road connectivity and quality of road network is not limited to Mirzapur alone.
In Barabanki district’s Suratganj town, a student of tenth standard, Gokaran Shukla told Gaon Connection that the road leading to his school is in a bad condition and it often results in him being late which results in reprimand from his teachers.
“My stomach often hurts because I have to ride my cycle on this bad road. If I drive slow, I get late for school and get punished. If I ride fast on this bad road, my stomach hurts and I find it hard to focus on my classes. I wish I don’t have to suffer for no fault of mine,” the student said.
More than 220 kilometers away Barabanki, in the Khandsar village of Tilhar in Shahjahanpur district, villagers complain of poorly built or missing roads.
“The roads in my area are all broken. When the road is broken beyond recognition, the government puts patches of daamar (asphalt) on the potholed parts but does not repair the entire stretch of the road. These patches of repair don’t last long,” Dharmendra Singh from Khandsar village told Gaon Connection.
However, the farmer went on to add that “the road condition was even worse during the previous governments. The BJP government has done some repairs, nobody here can deny that.”
Written by Pratyaksh Srivastava. With inputs from Ramji Mishra in Shahjahanpur and Virendra Singh in Barabanki.