PATLEN(Ccpur), Aug 19: With most of the benefits of development yet to reach them, the people of Patlen, located in Saikot A/C of Churachandpur district, and its neighbouring villages might as well be living hundreds of years in the past.
The situation that is to be found in hundreds of remote settlements scattered through the interior areas of Manipur is replicated here – extremely bad roads, no health care facilities, no access to safe drinking water, and welfare schemes that are carried out only in name.
As they have done for ages, the people are still depending on what are basically jungle trails and mud tracks for commuting from place to place, and they have yet to know what the feel of a hard-topped road is like.
Commuting from village to village is therefore a hard task in itself, which is compounded in bad weather or when sick people need to be brought out for medical treatment.
According to representatives of the Koitelui Area Chiefs Association, roads, bridges and other communication infrastructure in the 37 villages forming part of the association are all in horrible condition.
Some time back, when there was a proposal for turning Patlen, where there is a scenic lake into a tourism centre, there was an effort to develop the Monglenphai to Patlen road.
However, though gravel was laid on the road, for no accountable reason the effort stopped, and conditions remain as they are.
The lake at Patlen which is slightly larger than Leikoipat is a very scenic spot, and villagers had been hoping that when it is turned into a tourism centre, life for the villagers can improve and they will finally have access to benefits of development, the village elders said.
In the absence of any proper school in the area, the elders pointed out, children of the area have to travel to Monglenphai for school. However, with the bad roads, this means leaving home shortly after 6 am and returning only at around 6 pm.
While there are some sources of fresh water in the area, in the absence of any water supply scheme, safe drinking water is unavailable, and the area often falls prey to outbreaks of water-borne diseases.
Villages such as Hengjang, Natjang, Pejang, Thongnom, T Bolean, T Kholep and D Molvum still have no electricity, and villagers are still dependent on homemade lamps, and candles.
Because there is no power, our children can only study in the daytime. At night it is an early meal and early to bed, says a village elder, asking whether they can have a meaningful education in such a situation.
Amidst a multitude of grievances, one of the major causes for resentment among the locals is the hijacking of benefits legitimately meant for them under various welfare schemes.
According to villagers, it has been several years since construction material meant for the villagers under the housing schemes of the tribal welfare department have reached them.
When enquiries made at the concerned authorities, it was learnt that the yearly allotment of material, have been regularly supplied, but none of has reached the villagers, a local elder disclosed.
`We don`t know who has been hijacking the material, but whoever is cheating us poor villagers, the Almighty will punish someday`, the elder declares angrily.
Similarly, rice and kerosene provided through the public distribution system, have not reached the area in a long while.
In this connection, villagers said, some time back they launched an agitation against the DC Churachandpur, over the failure to ensure PDS items reach them. Subsequently, a few bags of rice were distributed to placate the people but nothing further has been received from them.
Villagers also disclosed that though there is near uniform poverty in the area, most people do not possess a ration card. No more than two families per village have got ration cards, and in most cases they have been cornered by people whose members are government employees, they charged.
The villagers were of the opinion that local associations should be entrusted with distribution of PDS items to ensure that the material reach their intended beneficiaries.
`Once it reaches the public, we can share amongst ourselves. If government agents continue to be involved, no one will receive anything,` is their refrain.