Murrah needs roads for development

Surankote (Jammu and Kashmir) July 4 (ANI): After being scarred by years of militancy, the quality of life in Murrah-an undeveloped village nestling in Peer Panjal Mountains of Jammu Kashmir-remains miserable for want of developmental focus

As Zahida Bi moves steadily, clutching an ailing child, through the twisted paths and treacherous footholds carved in the sheer rock faces of the snow covered mountains, she knows that the slightest mistake can cost a life.

The determined mother has embarked on this foot-journey from her village Murrah, located in the mighty Peer Panjal range in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, to reach a government hospital at Bufliaz in Surankote Tehsil, about 16 kilometers from her house, to get her child treated.

It will be dusk by the time she reaches the base; so she will take refuge at a relative's place for the night. After the visit to the hospital in the morning, she will undertake this journey again, trekking for hours on that merciless route to get back home.

"In the absence of a primary health center in our far-off village, we are completely dependent on the basic health care services available in Surankote or Poonch. Even to board a passenger vehicle, we have to walk for over six hours as there are no roads, virtually disconnecting us from the rest of the world," rues Zahida Bi. She has made this journey several times in the past, fetching medicines for common ailments like fever or cold.

The border district of Poonch in the Jammu region has only one hundred and twenty health institutions, catering to one hundred and eighty nine Panchayats. The numbers may seem adequate for the scanty population they cover collectively, but the poor quality of service at these health centers is further marred by their distance from the people who reside in the villages in the remote interiors.

According to the 2011 Census, Poonch district has a population of about 476,820, over 90 percent of which resides in the rural hamlets of the district. Villages like Murrah are tucked away in the higher reaches and remain cut off during the winters due to the absence of roads. On the other hand, there are at least 16 road projects, conceived under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), on which work has been abandoned half way for various reasons.

The intense geographical challenges, coupled with the conspicuous absence of basic amenities, public infrastructure and administrative inertia, throw up sordid tales of extreme hardships faced by villagers every day. Poverty is the primary human condition in such villages where militants once ruled the roost and did not allow any development work. Though militancy has decreased considerably, the villagers are yet to taste the fruits of economic development.

In 2006, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj categorized Poonch as one of the country's 250 most backward districts. It is one of the three districts in Jammu and Kashmir currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme.

Perhaps the worst affected are the children. Besides arranging for firewood and fodder from the nearby forest, they have to ferry eatables and dry rations to their homes as the area does not have an outlet of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department. The villagers are required to collect their quota of monthly ration from Bufliaz and carry it by head load to their homes. Their problems are further compounded during the rains as the small streams and rivulets swell up .

Haji Mohammad Aslam, Sarpanch, Murrah says, "We paid heavy human costs during the years of militancy. Though peace has been restored, the promises of development in this backward village are yet to be fulfilled. Our generation has lived through severe hardships. Today, a large majority of village youth are doing menial jobs in big cities of the country or outside, simply because there are no employment opportunities in Poonch. We are not receiving the benefits of various welfare schemes due to official apathy. The government has failed to provide us even the basics like safe drinking water facility."

Others in the village echoed the voice of their Sarpanch.

"We do not want the present and future generations to live through the same hardships. We want better development for our children. From Bufliaz to Kalaali, a road was constructed on a war footing during Operation Sarp Vinaash but the road is not motorable for other passenger vehicles. Today, only a few Tata Sumo's manage to ply on this precarious stony road but they charge exorbitant rates which everyone cannot afford. A new road project under PMGSY was started many years ago but the work has been suspended," said one of the villagers.

The village, however, is not new to the media. It hogged the headlines in 2003 when its people - men and women - participated in Operation Sarp Vinaash launched by the Army to wipe out militancy from the area. During the armed combat, more than three hundred heavily armed militants were gunned down and a large number of villagers and security personnel were also killed.

The Charkha Development Communication Network agrees with the villager, Ghulam Din, who feels that without a road, the government cannot begin or accelerate developmental work here. Given the challenging topography, villagers cultivate the rocky land, but for six months or less. For the rest of the year, everything remains enveloped in snow.

According to villagers, agriculture and livestock are their mainstay but the concerned departments are doing precious little to help them in these sectors.

When these issues were brought to the notice of the then District Deputy Commissioner, Ajeet Kumar Sahu, he said, "The area remained out of development focus due to militancy and geographical challenges. I have recently sent a proposal to the government listing the issues of this particular village among the top ten development issues being faced by the district." By Ashutosh Sharma(ANI)

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