Community Correspondent Khirendra Yadav’s video ensured rural connectivity for people in Kondagaon, albeit under heavy CRPF presence.
The Kondagaon district of Chhattisgarh sees much tension between government forces and Naxal groups, leading to the area being heavily militarised. Khirendra Yadav reports from Kondagaon and Bastar districts and documents the drudgery that everyday life can be in the region. “It is a heavily militarised area, but there are problems like electricity and healthcare too. I first made this video on rural connectivity two years ago, and the work began soon after but got stalled halfway”, says Khirendra.
The villages of Hiramandla and Karanpur were poorly connected to each other and to the district headquarters. For the residents of Hiramandla, the nearest Public Health Centre is 10 kilometres away and the nearest government hospital is 30 kilometres away. The village has no high school, and with no roads, it had become difficult for teachers and students to go to the primary school as well, raising the risk of dropouts.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) or the Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Scheme, rural connectivity is envisaged as a poverty reduction initiative. According to government data, the target length for Chhattisgarh is 1,900 kilometres which includes 235 habitations. So far, 1,256 kilometres covering 432 habitations have been completed. But why does it take years, three years in the case of Kondagaon, for road projects to be completed?
When Khirendra asks residents of the area, they said that the contractor was to blame. “The contractor has been inefficient, the workers dumped some gravel and left”, says Dinesh Kuram from a village along the stretch. When Khirendra spoke to the contractor, he said that they were not able to work because they felt threatened by the Naxal groups in the area.
“I met the Civil Engineer of the district along with two residents of the village and showed him my video, he assured us that his department would complete the work. Within two days, the workers returned and the road was ready within six months. But CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) personnel had to be deployed at the construction site because it is a conflict-prone area”, explains Khirendra, who had also filed an application under the Right to Information Act in the case.
Khirendra’s video ensured that 2000 persons living in the villages along the road now have better access to healthcare, education and the nearest urban centres. Most of them belong to Adivasi communities; groups whose rights are already being trampled upon by both the government and the private sector in Chhattisgarh.
Reporting from the region is not an easy task either. “I was working on another story where the panchayat building had been encroached upon by some men with political connections to the BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party). The police even falsely arrested two local residents, who tried to complain, alleging that they belonged to Naxal groups. I haven’t been able to resume my work on the case because even I am being suspected of being associated with Naxal groups and am being threatened.”
Despite the odds that the politics of the region sets against him, Khirendra does his best to bring to light issues that laypersons in the region face. He is now working on a story where his video and his activism brought electricity to a group of homes in a remote area of Kondagaon.
Video by Community Correspondent Khirendra Yadav
Article by Alankrita Anand, a journalist in the VV editorial team