The silver dust following the euphoria of the Tokyo Olympics success of Saikhom Mirabai Chanu has long settled in the tiny village of Nongpok Kakching in Manipur, made famous by the weightlifter.
Now, as election fever hits here too, the roadside camps of candidates belonging to parties such as the Congress, BJP and JD(U) gather dust every time a vehicle passes through the pothole-riddled single lane inter-village road.
For the locals, the upcoming assembly polls are the last opportunity before another cycle of “neglect” sets in, to remind all those who made tall promises while felicitating Chanu to deliver, with drinking water supply and poor road condition topping the litany of woes.
“In our village, we don’t have drinking water supply, not even pipelines. So, for our family, we buy drinking water for around Rs 1,000 every month from water tanker operators,” Chanu’s mother Saikhom Tombi told PTI.
The village, which is about 25 km from Manipur’s capital Imphal, was given hope when ministers and government officials, who came to felicitate the weightlifter after she won a silver medal at the Olympics last year, promised the completion of a Rs 1.2-crore water supply project which started in December 2020.
“That has remained a promise only. Work on the project has stopped after just about 15 per cent construction. It is supposed to be completed on March 8, 2022 and there is no chance of it meeting the deadline. Forget ‘Har Ghar Jal’, the entire village doesn’t even have a single pipeline,” lamented Mayanglambam Kennedy, president of Bright Star Union (BSU), a local youth club.
Like Chanu’s family, others also buy drinking water with an average monthly bill of around Rs 500-Rs 700 depending on the number of members. They depend on water from community ponds and a nearby stream for other purposes.
The village, which has around 85 households with nearly 300 voters comes under the Lamlai Assembly constituency, where five candidates belonging to the BJP, Congress, Republican Party of India (Athawale), JD (U) and an Independent are in the fray. It goes to polls in the first phase on February 28.
While the thirst for drinking water supply hasn’t been quenched so far, another issue that Tombi wants the next government to address as a top priority is improvement in the condition of the road that leads to Nongpok Kakching.
“It is really in a bad condition and (travel) becomes very difficult during monsoon. We have made repeated requests but in vain,” she said, adding her vote would be reserved for the candidate who would address these issues.
Tombi’s biggest concern is that in cases of medical emergency, with Nongpok Kakching not having even a primary health centre, villagers have to travel a long distance for treatment and the current road condition makes it extremely challenging.
M Jayenta, an executive member of BSU, rued that the potholes were filled up just before Chanu came home with the medal from Tokyo in July last year and after that, no one has bothered to look back once the euphoria died down.
“Moreover, there was also a promise to construct a gymnasium in Mirabai’s name at the village but that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
Yengkhom Anand, who was hired on contract by the village development committee (VDC) to teach children at the government junior high school as regular teachers haven’t turned up, said, “The years of neglect that Nongpok Kakching is facing has been frustrating, to say the least.”
“Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the functioning of schools across the state but the school in our village has been neglected much before that. Earlier, it used to have up to class 10 but then it was downgraded to class 8, and today it has classes up to the fifth standard only,” he said.
Many children from the village now go to private schools in faraway places as there are no regular teachers and proper infrastructure here, he said.
With the VDC running out of funds and unable to pay Anand for his services anymore, his students face an uncertain future.
The villagers here hope that irrespective of who comes to power in Manipur after the polls, Nongpok Kakching will not be forgotten, only to be remembered when Chanu comes home with another medal. (PTI)