Disconnected: Basic amenities still elude Odisha’s Pakatamunda village

Disconnected: Basic amenities still elude Odisha’s Pakatamunda village

Disconnected: Basic amenities still elude Odisha’s Pakatamunda village

Severe connectivity challenges — physical and digital — have left tribal inhabitants of the area grappling with access to healthcare, education and government benefits

Dhenkanal, Odisha: Pakatamundavillage in Dhenkanal district of Odisha has long been grappling with severe connectivity issues, causing distress among its tribal inhabitants. The plight of around 100 tribal families, primarily from the Gandar and Tasa castes, has persisted for generations, with residents lamenting that their ancestors faced similar challenges. The lack of proper connectivity has life-threatening consequences, particularly when it comes to healthcare access and overall quality of life.

Sushant Swain, a resident in his mid-40s, recounted an incident that underscored the gravity of the connectivity problem. He said, “My wife was in labour when the ambulance couldn’t reach our village. It was during monsoon when villagers had to transport her in a bullock cart over rough terrain to the Birasal Primary Health Centre (PHC). The constant jolts and bumps proved fatal, and she lost her life midway.”

This heartrending incident, which occurred two decades ago, still haunts locals and serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of inadequate connectivity.

Pakatamunda, situated in the Kankadahad block, is notorious for the backwardness faced by its tribal population due to challenges in employment, healthcare and connectivity. Situated around 135 kms from capital city of Bhubaneswar, it has no access to basic facilities. Agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood for most villagers.  

However, the absence of proper roads has fueled frustration among the tribals. In fact, Pakatamunda was one of the 14 wards in the Bam panchayat that boycotted the panchayat polls on 2019 as a protest against the lack of progress. The villagers have now threatened to boycott the upcoming 2024 elections if their demands remain unmet. The primary concern is the 5-km forest path that connects Patharagada with Pakatamunda, laden with obstacles that hamper daily activities.

Swampy forest paths turn nightmare for entire village (Photo - Alexander K Sebastian)

Row over forest path

The forest path has emerged as a major bone of contention between villagers and the forest authorities. The villagers accuse forest officials of exhibiting high-handedness by obstructing connectivity and progress.

Talking to 101Reporters, sarpanch of Bam panchayat (under which Pakatamunda falls) Fakeer Mahant said, “The path to the village falls within the purview of a reserved forest, making it challenging for the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) to grant the construction permits. Despite representations from MLAs and MPs, no progress has been made.” 

While surrounding villages benefit from semi-concrete roads, Pakatamunda’s fate remains trapped within a reserve forest area.

Arjan Singh, a 60-year-old member of the Gandar tribe, raised questions about the forest officials’ justification. “If such reasons are valid, then under what provision do forest officials dig big holes in our path, making commutation difficult?” he asked.

This dispute reached a turning point last year when villagers confronted the forest officials, who were using excavator machines to dig up the path. 

Despite enquiries by 101Reporters, the motivation behind this exercise remains unclear. The villagers, frustrated by the lack of answers, seized the machines for several days.

Feigning ignorance about the incident, Dhenkanal DFO Sumit Kar suggested that it might not have had significant implications. He said the region’s lack of connectivity deterred bureaucrats from being posted there, leading to frequent transfers to other places.

Education in a shambles

Education in Pakatamunda has also been severely compromised by the connectivity issue. The local school relies on just two teachers and an anganwadi worker to manage midday meals. 

Sumati Singh, a teacher, reflected on her initial struggles to adapt to the village’s isolation. She said, “Arriving here was an uphill battle. No one from Bam village could provide clear directions due to our location’s isolation. Over time, I have adjusted, but emergency situations remain a nightmare due to communication difficulties.”

Despite the dedicated efforts of the teachers, low attendance remains a pressing concern. Only 23 students attend the school, and many tribal parents are hesitant to send their children beyond Class V. For those who do continue their education, sending them to relatives in cities becomes a necessity due to the lack of suitable schools in the village.

Food grains strewn in school compounds (Photo- Alexander K Sebastian)

Digital divide persists

While the country celebrates its digital progress ahead of the G20 presidency, Pakatamunda remains untouched by the benefits of digital connectivity. Locals have to go to higher places to get just one signal bar for making calls or sending texts. 

Harihara Biswal, another local, recalled a recent incident where officials from the Kankadahad General Post Office and telecom companies promised seamless mobile connectivity after villagers cooperated to set up a tower. However, these assurances were left unfulfilled, leaving the village without reliable mobile connectivity.

Kankadahad Gram Panchayat Officer Saroj Panda, however, attributed the lack of interest from telecom companies to the absence of growth opportunities due to the limited consumer base.

Meanwhile, local MLA Nrusingha Sahoo said mobile connectivity falls under the purview of the Centre, emphasising the need for broader access. 

Despite the country’s digital advancements, the connectivity void in Pakatamunda persists, impacting education, healthcare updates and communication with the authorities concerned.

The lack of connectivity has further led to unawareness among villagers regarding government initiatives. Many are unfamiliar with the policy of linking bank accounts with Aadhaar ID cards for availing farmer insurance loans or old-age pension schemes. This ignorance has resulted in villagers being deprived of government incentives, which are sometimes misappropriated by village officials.

Prasanna Dehury, a villager aspiring to own a house, alleged that the former BJD sarpanch regularly excluded his name from the Indira Awaas Yojana, misusing the government funds and providing excuses.

(Above) Absence of drainage facilities inducing malaria, (below) stagnant supply, a major obstacle in daily activities (Photo - Alexander K Sebastian)

Marriage prospects diminish

The crisis has not only affected the village’s infrastructure and services, but also its social fabric.

Shanti Swain, a local and mother of two daughters aged just above18, has been struggling to find marriage prospects for her daughters due to the village’s isolated status. The community faces discrimination as outsiders and misconceptions have taken root, dissuading potential alliances. The absence of marriage processions in the village is a poignant testament to the social repercussions of the connectivity issue.

Pakatamunda’s enduring struggle with connectivity encapsulates the broader challenges faced by remote villages in India. Despite the promises of progress and development, this village remains trapped by the lack of roads, digital access and essential services. The tales of suffering recounted by its residents underscore the urgency of addressing these connectivity gaps.

Edited by Jasriman Kaur

Cover Photo - Boggy forest path only lifeline for tribals (Photo - Alexander K Sebastian)


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