Success: Community Gets a Road Back on Track!

The Prime Minister’s Rural Road Scheme (PMRRS) aims to connect the remotest habitations across India to bigger towns and better facilities—healthcare, education, markets. In November 2013, the construction of a new road under the scheme caused panic for some 2,500 people from four villages of Bandagaon District, Jharkhand. Once again, well-laid plans had gone awry at the stage of execution, alienating the very people they were meant for. Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay stood by his community and filmed their attempts to bring the matter back on track. He narrates the events that led to a victory for the community.

“A 19 kilometre road had been planned between Jatatangasa and Kontari villages. The road would cut through fields, forests in the heartland of the Munda people. While most welcomed this road, for many of the villages it came as a rude shock.

At the heart of the PMRR scheme is the necessity to take into consideration the needs of the people who inhabit the area. Their consent is the foundation of the road“, explains Xavier.

For a 2.5 kilometre stretch of road near neighbouring villages of Tirla, Timda, Saridiri and Tingria, the land had been surveyed and allocated without the permission of the people. The residents immediately demanded that the construction be stopped.

“They were definitely not opposed to the construction of a road; they just didn’t want it to pass by that particular route. These residents had collectively given over considerable amounts of land in the 1980s for the construction of another kuchcha road nearby. They wanted the new road to pass by this old road; a task that was easily achievable.

Secondly, this was crucial agricultural land. Their fields, their seasonal trees like mango, mahua and jackfruit were all here. The residents of Tirla would also lose three places of worship. So you could understand their anger at this decision.”

Xavier lives in Sardiri and also stood to lose some of his land. When the villages decided to call a meeting Xavier went along with his camera to document what would happen. “I knew collecting evidence would go a long way in making our case. We had decided to visit the Block Development officer and the District Collector too, if needed.”

“In the meantime, the bulldozers and construction workers were starting to get to work. One morning, I went over to film this too. At first the supervisors got annoyed that I was filming. I pointed out how not having consent before the construction of the road was against the rules. He said that the government had given its permission, so ours was not needed. I knew then that I would prove him wrong.

Road construction is an easy job to make extra money for contractors. In our case, constructing along a new route rather than the existing one would benefit them. The fact that everyone in the community came out so strongly against this decision and that the contractors had seen me film was what helped us.

Soon after my altercation with the supervisors, the matter had reached the senior Contractor and the Block Office. Within days we saw that that they abandoned the work on the new road and started constructing the road along the route residents had wanted.

You see there is a common perception in the world outside is that my people don’t want development. We want roads and electricity and water too. This new road will mean people wont have to walk 3 hours to the nearest town or market. However, we want to achieve this in a way that it doesn’t destroy our land. Our people have lived in harmony with the earth of centuries. We’ve both, lived off it and nurtured it. This will not change for us.

To be a Community Correspondent is to be able to get these thoughts and beliefs out to the world; help them understand my people. Through instances like this, I want to be able to show the world that development and conservation can travel on the same path.”

- Interview Compiled by Kayonaaz

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