More than sixty eight per cent of India’s population lived in 5,97,618 inhabited villages. Out of them, 37,439 villages didn’t have 3G/4G mobile internet services. At 8947, Odisha has the maximum number of such villages. Uttar Pradesh, with the highest rural population of 155 million accounting for 18.6% of country’s rural population, had 97,813 inhabited villages while Odisha had a rural population of 35 million accounting for only 4.4% of country’s rural population but had 47,677 inhabited villages. Madhya Pradesh with 58 million (6.3% of country’s rural population) had 51,929 villages. Odisha has the third largest number of villages in India, next only to Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. While the average number of people per village was 1394 for India, it was 1503 for Maharastra, 1389 for Karnataka, 1862 for Gujarat, 1380 for Uttar Pradesh, 1013 for Madhya Pradesh and 734 for Odisha.
Kotagarh Block of Kandhamal district in Odisha, as per Census 2011 figures, comprises 133 villages out of which 17 villages have a population below 100. The least populated village Nuasajeli has only 2 inhabitants. Malaguda village has only 13 people. Kerpai Gram Panchayat in Thuamul Rampur block of Kalahandi district has as many as 31 villages with the largest village Majhigaon having 382 people. Salebali village had only 20 inhabitants, Taijhola, only 17 and Champajuan village had 50 people.
India’s 5,97,518 inhabited villages had 2,38,054 Gram Panchayats (December 2010 figures). This works out to each Grama Panchayat having 2.5 villages. In respect of Odisha, however, the average works out to 7 villages per Gram Panchayats while it is 1.88 for Uttar Pradesh, 2.26 for Madhya Pradesh and 1.47 villages for Maharashtra.
Many states have opted for a Gram Panchayat for one village or around 2 to 3 villages. Such an arrangement has made Gram Sabha more representative of the Panchayat. A panchayat having 20 villages can hardly have inhabitants of every village attending a meeting of the Gram Sabha. Inhabitants of distant villages generally lose many benefits of various development activities.
In July 2016, 19 children died of malnutrition in Nagada village of Jajpur district that drew the attention of local and national media. The revenue village had three hamlets located on hills within two-kilometre from one another. Basic facilities like road, electricity, drinking water, mobile phone network, health facilities were lacking.
After the wide media coverage of the malnutrition deaths, Government constituted a Task Force comprising senior bureaucrats to look after the developmental works. Construction of road, provision of drinking water, construction of school and Anganwadi buildings, facility of electricity, etc. were taken up. Now physical amenities have, to some extent, improved; but the small habitations remain vulnerable to distress situations.
Even today human miseries keep surfacing from vulnerable small villages. In July this year, an expectant mother of Kashipal village in Jashipur block of Mayurbhanj district on labour pain needed to be rushed to hospital. However, the ambulance could not reach the village due to lack of a motorable road, compelling family members to carry the woman on a cot to reach the ambulance waiting 2 km away from her house. The woman delivered a child on the way. In March this year, women in Dumdumpada village under Rajgangpur block in Sundargarh district had to walk long distance to get water from a stream.
Sapalaguda, a small village in Mohana Tehsil in Gajapati district of Odisha is located 33 KM from district headquarters Paralakhemundi. The village had a population of 182. In 2001, Collector of the district reached the village on foot to enquire into the circumstances leading to death of three people. The family that fell victim to the tragedy had hosted guests and had used whatever rice they had and then had consumed fungus infested mango kernels as a last resort. The family lost three lives. Getting rice through PDS at the prescribed rate was impossible as the rice had to be carried headload or by cart for miles in the hilly terrain involving higher cost. If inhabitants chose to lift rice from the retailer at great distance, they had to walk miles, spend the night and carry rice back home.
A small village, say with thirty inhabitants, would make living of inhabitants highly vulnerable. Such a village would remain deficient in connectivity as well as basic amenities like drinking water, health workers, fair-price shops and primary education. That explains why unacceptable situations ranging from women walking miles to fetch water to an expectant mother being carried on a cot to a medical facility for delivery keep recurring. Such incidents could manifest even in developed districts as was the case in Nagada village in Jajpur district of Odisha.
A bridge over the Mahanadi over three kilometers long connecting Cuttack with Nuapatna was completed three years ago at a cost of Rs 157 crore. Another bridge over the Mahanadi, more than 3 kilometer long, being ready to connect Gopinathpur with Baideswar would cost Rs 175 crore. Similar scale of investment would be needed to ensure connectivity to far-flung small habitations, mostly in difficult terrain. Only improved connectivity would not improve quality of life. Other amenities have to be provided for as well. Transformation of such tiny habitations does not seem to be possible in near future.
We need to explore alternative approach. Odisha needs to embark upon a programme of consolidation of villages with the objective of relocating tiny villages and creating viable villages, each having a population of at least 500. Similarly, Odisha should have more Gram Panchayats so that a Panchayat should consist of up to three villages. Odisha should, perhaps, reduce the number of villages to around 35,000 and increase the number of Gram Panchayats to 15,000.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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