21-year wait for a hospital yields nothing. Villagers gear up for a fight

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Ratnadip Choudhury
Guwahati

Battle-ready Ujoragaon villagers meet to discuss their next plan on action
Battle-ready Ujoragaon villagers meet to discuss their next plan on action
Photo: Urmi Bhattacharjee

I GAVE UP four fertile bighas for a hospital that never came up,” says Dhaniram Bora. “Two years after I donated the land, my son died because I could not take him to a doctor on time. Had the hospital been constructed in my village, my son would have been saved.” A tearyeyed Dhaniram is addressing a meeting attended by other village elders in the remote Ujoragaon village in Assam’s Nagaon district.

He is talking about a facility that was promised to the village in 1990 by the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta-led Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government. The elders are meeting to discuss the four hectares of land that the village had donated to the hospital 21 years ago.

“In 1990, the AGP government had proposed to construct a 30-bed rural hospital here if we donated our land. We readily donated our land,” reminisces Lishiram Bora, another resident. “Construction began but stopped soon after the government changed. We have been sending petitions and approaching local politicians and the district administration for two decades. Now, our patience has run out. Our initial demand was ‘either give us the hospital or return our land’. Now, we don’t want the land. We want the hospital and we will agitate for this.”

That year, CM Mahanta laid the foundation stone of the rural hospital, to be named Madhabdev Community Health Centre. Contractors were engaged, boundary walls came up, and staff quarters were made. But work stopped after the Congress came to power in 1991. “Initially the Congress was not keen because this area is thought to be a stronghold of the AGP, but now they should do something. We now have a Congress MLA,” says Rajat Hazarika, whose father had donated land. On being contacted, the MLA, Durlav Chamua, offers a regulation reply. “I have already taken up the matter with the state government and will do something about it,” he says. The villagers, meanwhile, protect the land against encroachment by growing sugarcane within the roofless rooms.That year, CM Mahanta laid the foundation stone of the rural hospital, to be named Madhabdev Community Health Centre. Contractors were engaged, boundary walls came up, and staff quarters were made. But work stopped after the Congress came to power in 1991. “Initially the Congress was not keen because this area is thought to be a stronghold of the AGP, but now they should do something. We now have a Congress MLA,” says Rajat Hazarika, whose father had donated land. On being contacted, the MLA, Durlav Chamua, offers a regulation reply. “I have already taken up the matter with the state government and will do something about it,” he says. The villagers, meanwhile, protect the land against encroachment by growing sugarcane within the roofless rooms.

While Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claims that Assam has the best rural health infrastructure, people from Ujoragaon and neighbouring villages have to travel 12 km on an average to reach the nearest hospital. For the younger generation, anger has now reached a breaking point. They vow that the agitation for the hospital would be akin to Singur in West Bengal. “AGP leaders, including Prafulla Mahanta had promised a job to each family that donated land. We don’t need jobs or land, we need the government to fulfil its commitment,” seethes local youth Dipankar Barik. “We will fight for the hospital and are ready to die for it.”

In 1991, Rs 54.3 lakh was allocated for the construction of the hospital. The government had ordered the Public Works Department (PWD) to carry out the construction. Documents show the project was cleared by the finance department of the state government. In 2009, in its annual state audit report, the CAG had come down heavily on the state PWD for non-completion of work. The PWD took up the matter with the Directorate of Health Services, and a few letters were exchanged before the issue was put on the backburner again.

“We do not have any record of what happened after the money was sanctioned in 1991. I was not there at that time,” explains Apurba Sharma, Joint Director, Directorate of Health Services, Nagaon.

Some of the land donors died waiting for a hospital. The ones that remain want their children and grand – children to access modern healthcare. For this, they are ready to go the Singur way.

Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.
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