Tricolour at Saranda after 12 yrs

"Mein chahta hoon, mera antim sanskar Digha mein ho. Main yahan aata rahunga. Marne ke baad mera nam Jairam Ramesh Munda rakh dena (I want my last rites to be done in Digha, I will keep coming here. After my death, call me Jairam Ramesh Munda)."

Digha (Manoharpur), West Singhbhum, Jan. 27: Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh made history by unfurling the Republic Day Tricolour in Saranda for the first time since 2000, unabashedly playing to the gallery but also backing his "man of the people" image with livelihood plans in the erstwhile Naxalite hotbed.

Personal how-are-yous were aplenty once the 59-year-old minister landed from the Agusta AVRC chopper on Digha helipad around 9.20am yesterday, making it his fourth visit to this village and the sixth to Saranda since December 2011.

But the Union minister, now seen as someone from the Centre who regularly visits the neglected area that even local MLAs and bureaucrats steered clear of, also offered concrete turnaround solutions under the Rs 250-crore Saranda Action Plan.

Jobs such as nursing, milk processing, mobile repairing, handicraft, bamboo craft, welding, fitting, service sectors such as security, retail and housekeeping management were on his agenda for Saranda's youth, he affirmed. "If the people have an opportunity of livelihood and access to basic amenities, they will not fall back on their jungle friends (read Maoists)," he told The Telegraph.

Largely due to Ramesh's initiatives, certain windows of opportunity have already opened for Saranda.

Tata Steel has agreed to provide diploma in nursing and auxiliary nursing and midwifery training to batches of 100 tribal matriculate girls each from Saranda at TMH, Jamshedpur. PanIIT Alumni Reach for India (Parfi), a not-for-profit social enterprise under the PanIIT Alumni Association, has also agreed to set up a Chaibasa unit to teach youths welding, fitting and fabrication. ILandFS Cluster Development Initiative Limited will set up a centre at Manoharpur, training youths in mobile repair, computer operation, driving as well as for jobs in retail and housekeeping.

West Singhbhum district administration under National Rural Livelihood Mission has sent 100 girls to Andhra Pradesh for training in handicraft and bamboo cane products. The 174th Battalion of CRPF has turned 12 girls into security guards.

Jobs apart, Ramesh pointed out the climate of confidence while hearing girls of the upgraded middle school at Digha sing the national anthem in the backdrop of the Tricolour. "We have witnessed the national flag after more than a decade. When I first visited this place in 2011, people simply stared at me. Now they are opening up," Ramesh said.

He devoted the next couple of hours to inaugurating a solar drinking water pump set near the Digha school, reviewing the under-construction pucca road, meeting panchayat representatives and asking SAIL officials to finish the Rs 5.38-crore integrated development centre by February.

It was also clear that Ramesh had developed a personal bond. "Kaise ho, tumhara ilaaj hua ki nahin (How are you? Your treatment was done or not)?" the minister asked 15-year-old Sangita Bhengra, crippled since birth, whom he met in July and September 2012.

It did not end there. Ramesh turned to Manoharpur circle officer Baidyanath Oraon to check if the girl had been treated as he had directed in July and was visibly disappointed to hear that RIMS doctors in Ranchi said her legs could not be operated upon.

Manoharpur subdivisional officer P.B. Lakra assured him they were trying to get Sangita a job after matriculation.

"Girls like Sangita are a part of my family. I see them in my dreams. I am drawn by the love shown by the people of Digha," added Ramesh.

Ramesh then flew 40km to reach Manoharpur block office, 40km from Digha, and unfurled the Tricolour. He also went to a free cataract surgery camp at St Anthony High School organised by Kashyap Memorial Eye Bank and a Kisan Mela at Manoharpur block office before flying to Dodari village, 25 km away.

At Dodari, Ramesh inaugurated a 2.85 km road under Saranda Action Plan, costing Rs 1.37 crore, connecting Dodari and Silai villages. He also addressed villagers at Dodari Upgraded Middle School, calling upon youths to stop drinking. His next stop was Chaibasa, where he met few Congress party workers at the district collectorate. He left for Ranchi around 4.30 pm.

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