Two years ago, when I visited a young Alastiben after treading downhill for close to two hours in the scorching sun, I found her helpless. In her early twenties, she was eight months pregnant. She was expecting her third baby. I asked her if she wanted to deliver her baby in a hospital. She nodded, but she said she was unable to. There was no motorable road for close to four kilometers in her hamlet of Nilungi in Narwad village of Kaprada block. There was no way she could walk so much with a baby in her womb to reach the highway.One of the worst blocks of South Gujarat, Kaprada constituency in Valsad district is not buying into the ‘development’ model propagated by the BJP. This is primarily because development has not reached there in the truest essence.The non-motorable road in Nilungi – Maitri PorechaEven as Congress candidate Jitubhai Chaudhari has won in Kaprada by a narrow margin of 120 votes, neither congress nor BJP have done much to fasten development in terms of health or education in the constituency.A narrow road from adjoining Moodgaon hamlet leads to Nilungi. Vehicles have to be parked at the mouth of the rocky road at Moodgaon. The road to Nilungi is replete with heavy rocks. It must be traversed by foot.At the base of the hill, in the hamlet of Nilungi, I met two pregnant women. Alastiben is one of them. She was shy. She did not want to interact with outsiders. She had many chores to finish at home. Later, she would go and work in her rice fields. Her two children, Sooraj (5) and Jayshree (2), flit around her, constantly clasping at her sari.After much coaxing, Alastiben sat down to chat. She says there are no maternal and child care services in the hamlet. “Nilungi is cut off from the world. The aanganwadi in Nilungi is non-functional. Last month, I had to walk four kilometres to and fro to the adjoining hamlet of Khadki to get myself checked. How do you expect a pregnant woman to undertake such arduous treks, uphill and downhill, on foot, to access medical care?,” she asked. The Gujarat government provides financial incentives to pregnant mothers, so that they may consider delivering babies in hospitals. But Alastiben was in no position to access such an incentive. Her biggest worry is that she may not be able to reach the hospital, due to lack of roads.Alastiben was illiterate. She was not aware of the date so as to when her baby is due for delivery. She did not know what time of day was it. She returned back to sweeping the floor of her house and to other chores at her farm. Closing the conversation, she said, “I would like to get hospitalised for my delivery, but it’s impossible as there are no motorable roads to take me there.”Village after village in Kaprada had hamlets bereft of motorable roads. Villagers said that women had gotten used to delivering babies at home because there would be no facilities to take them to hospital. At least 14 people had died over the last two decades because they could not avail emergency medical care on time. A major cause of death was due to falling off a tree and subsequent delay in reaching the hospital for treating internal bleeding. Another was diarrhoea and dehydration due to drinking water from contaminated sources. Also prevalence of leprosy is eight times more in Kaprada as compared to its urban counterpart of Valsad block.The urban-rural divide is stark in the results of Gujarat’s Assembly Elections this year. Kaprada falls in Valsad district consisting of six talukas. It is one of the most backward districts in Gujarat. On the other hand, 60 kilometers away in the very Valsad district, urban Valsad constituency has developed into a buzzing city with top-class facilities.BJP candidate Bharatbhai Patel has won by a margin of 43,092 votes in urban Valsad constituency, while Congress has registered a win in Kaprada. Two blocks at either ends of the development in Valsad district have different party leanings. In one of them, the buzzing urban Valsad block, BJP enjoys undivided confidence of the voters, while in the other, the rural hilly Kaprada, one of the most backward block in South Gujarat lying in the farthest corner of the Valsad district, a Congress candidate has registered a win, even if by a very narrow margin.But no politician had ever visited Nilungi, where Alastiben waited her pangs of labour to begin any moment. Her third baby was delivered at night in her hut. A relief is that her baby was born healthy and she is doing fine. But no political party has ever bothered to facilitate the construction of motorable roads there or question its absence till date.When I first wrote about the dire condition of Kaparada on social media, I received a phone call from the collector of Valsad – Ravi Kumar Arora. He had been embarrassed after reading my heart-wrenching posts of under-development in this corner of Gujarat on Facebook.Over the phone, Arora told me, “Madam, it is not like the government is not doing anything for the development of Kaprada.”I retorted back, “Why don’t you come and see the conditions for yourself?”The administration had run a search on my name and were curious to know what I was up to in Kaprada and my background as well as that of my family members.On January 27, a day after the Republic Day celebrations had wound up, Arora landed in Nilungi along with a battery of officials – a total of over 50 in all. They were block level officers, engineers, chief medical officers, nurses and health workers. He made each one of them walk downhill – a trek of four kilometers to reach Nilungi. Later, he promised Rs 1 crore for the village including building a road to Nilungi. Estimates were drawn and filed by engineers.Two years down the line, sitting from my office in New Delhi, I follow-up with the Sarpanch of Narwad village every month to know if the works of the new road have begun in Kaprada. They have still not begun. And I wonder, no matter which political party wins in Gujarat, will a villager ever reap the benefits of a decent motorable road?
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