Mrunal Manmay Dash

Over six thousand Sarpanchs from across Odisha staged a massive demonstration and took out a rally from Master Canteen towards Naveen Niwas in Bhubaneswar on Monday demanding pay hike and other issues.

During their attempts to gherao the Naveen Niwas, they were stopped by the police at Sishu Bhawan square which led to a scuffle with cops.

Their demands included more power to the Gram Panchayats, full aid, salary hike to Rs 30000 per month and retirement allowance of Rs 5000 per month.

The agitators, united under the banner of Sarpanch Mahasangh, alleged that despite working for people in their community round-the-clock without any leave, they are being paid a meagre Rs 2,300.

The sarpanchs also alleged that most of the government projects are being implemented at the grassroots by block level officials without their knowledge and their power and rights are being curtailed.

“We had discussed our demands with the government several times in the past. We had taken out a rally last year too. We sat on dharna for 22 days. The government had assured us to grant all our demands. But they cheated us,” a protesting Sarpanch said.

“We do not want anything for our personal gain. We want to materialise the dreams of late Biju Patnaik who wanted a prosperous rural Odisha,” he said.

A woman Sarpanch protesting in Bhubaneswar said, “Don’t we serve the people? Are not we people’s representatives? Everybody knows there is an ‘officer raj’ in Odisha. Otherwise people’s representatives would not have been protesting on the streets and being shoved by the police. If the government does not grant us our demands then we will intensify our agitation even more.”

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Following the scuffle, the Sarpanchs were taken into preventive custody by the police.

Hundreds of sarpanchs from across the State had hit the streets in September last year seeking fulfillment of their 15-point charter of demands.

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