Betul, Madhya Pradesh: On the night of July 19, Ramkali Vadive (45) became dizzy with high fever. As her situation worsened, her husband Surajlal Vadive sought help from acquaintances for a vehicle to take her to a nearby hospital. “None could arrive as there is no road for a four-wheeler to reach our house,” recalled Surajlal who stays in Dhobandhana locality of Chira village in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district. The next day, a friend from nearby Bairagarh village brought a car. Ramkali was carried on a cot to reach the vehicle from where she was taken to the nearby hospital for treatment. “My wife is alright now but this is the situation every time somebody falls sick,” said Surajlal.
Gayatri Kavde (10) has to walk two kilometres from Dhobandhana to her school in Chira every day. She had to cross a nullah to reach school. “Sometimes I walk through knee-deep water. When it rains heavily, there was no option but to miss school,” said Kavde. Shivraj Markam (11) goes to a school in Jhirna Batki since the school in Chira is only up to the primary level. “There was no road so I walked through the fields,” he said.
Chira is 80 kms from the district headquarters in Betul. Along with Khurda and Bhatki villages, it is part of the Batki Panchayat. Bhatki has a population of 2,500 people who predominantly belong to the Gond tribe. The area falls within the District Panchayat of Bhimpur in Betul.
Around 30 families live in Dhobandhana, a population of about 250. Till now, they are not connected to the main road in Chira and that is the main cause of their woes. On June 5 this year, on the occasion of World Environment Day, the Gram Sabha members of Dhobandhana passed a resolution to carve a path for themselves, literally. “People voluntarily decided to give a part of their land for the carriageway,” said Lavkesh Morse (36), who works as a Gram Sabha money mobiliser with Batki Panchayat, under which Chira village falls. While a concrete road will come up only when the district administration officially sanctions it, for now the villagers are happy that there is at least a dedicated carriageway. "It is still a mud path. No vehicles can ply on it. After rainfall, in fact, it is in bad condition but it is still better than nothing. We are all set to officially donate our land. We just want the government to start work on it as soon as possible," said Chagan Marskole, a resident of Dhobandhana.
"The only way to go to and fro from Chira was through the nullah or the fields. It is especially difficult to bring pregnant women to the Bhimpur Community Health Centre for child delivery. Extra distance had to be covered to bring vehicles through the good roads. It took a lot of time and was risky as well,” said Kalu Marskole (55), Chagan's uncle.
People of Chira depend on subsistence farming of maize and paddy during Kharif and collect tendu leaves, mahua and other minor forest produce. Nothing is grown during Rabi as no irrigation facility is available in the village, Chandravati Syamalal Marskole, Sarpanch of Bhatki told 101Reporters. People take up work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme like digging ponds, road construction and making check dams. During summer, they migrate to cities like Indore, Bhopal, Nagpur, Amravati, Pune and Mumbai for manual labour. Despite minimal financial backup, the people of Chira collected Rs 30,000 to hire an earth mower and contributed voluntary labour to level the path. The total length of the final road till Chira would be two kms.
Since there are concrete roads in all other localities of the village, the people of Dhobandhana assumed that road construction and land acquisition are the government’s responsibility, said Dhanu Markam (52). “No one explained the process clearly to us till now,” said Markam from whose house the carriageway begins. “Morse explained to us that the government does not acquire land for the construction of village roads, but only national and state highways. He said since this road is for the use of villagers only, only we have to get together and find a solution,” said Babulal Marskole, also a resident. Eight people, including Markam, Chagan Marskole, Kalu Marskole and Babulal Marskole, have agreed to donate a part of their lands for the road, though the total amount of land in question can only be finalised once the road is sanctioned and measured.
“A village road is only slightly wider than the footpath. I explained to people that if only so much land is needed, what is the use of relying on the administration? It is only in the last six months that people came on the same page. Talking to people helped strengthen the social fabric of the village,” said Morse.
As of now, people have donated 3-5 feet on either side and we have a 12 feet wide carriageway now that is actively being used by people,” he added. In December 2020, the Panchayat State Directorate of Madhya Pradesh introduced the position of a 'mobiliser' for which Morse is hired with a view to help resolve conflicts and strengthen the Gram Sabha in 89 villages administered under the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act.
"Now that people have agreed to donate land for the road, this is our priority. As soon as the monsoon ends, we will ask the Revenue Department to measure the exact amount of land needed. The farmers contributing the land will have to give a formal letter confirming the donation of land for the purpose of the road. After which we will send a proposal to the Bhimpur District Panchayat along with relevant documents and begin work as soon as the proposal is approved. The trouble faced by people is genuine. Higher authorities are already aware of the resolution passed by Gram Sabha and we are sure to get the approval soon," said Sarpanch Chandravati Marskole.
Edited by Ravleen Kaur
Cover Photo - Villagers discussing after agreeing to give land under the trees in Dhobandhana of Gram Panchayat Batki (Photo - Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)
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