Situated 40 km from the state capital Raipur, Rajnandgaon is one of Chhattisgarh's VIP districts. As the native district of Chief Minister Raman Singh, it has been showcased as one of the model districts in the state.
The Koracha Panchayat lies near the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra border in Manpur area, about 100 km from the district headquarters. Passing through treacherous narrow alleys and a bumpy ride of around 12 km, we reach the nondescript village of Bukmarka-Sudiyal. On the face of it, Bukmarka-Sudiyal is like any other village in Chhattisgarh. However, the village is famous for the high quality bamboo available there.
We are accompanied by the former sarpanch of Koracha, Birbal Shah Mandavi. According to him, "The state's forest department earns crores of rupees every year through the bamboos grown here."
However, many residents of the village still live in poverty. Such is the condition of the villagers that they have to cover the distance of 24 km on foot to get subsidised ration at Koracha.
"Our children cannot walk for so long on a daily basis. Therefore, those who cannot afford to stay at Koracha have no school to study after Class VI," complains Sukaro Bai, one of the oldest natives of Bukmarka-Sudiyal.
Sukaro Bai, like other villagers, is still awaiting basic amenities like roads, electricity and clean drinking water. We reached the village through a trail that went along the hills. For years, this has been the only connection of Bukmarka-Sudiyal to the outside world.
This road is interspersed with several ravines that make the journey to Koracha impossible during the rainy season. To our surprise, the Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) has set up a solar panel in the village. This was meant to provide an alternate source of electricity to the locals. However, the panel is no longer functioning due to lack of maintenance.
The lack of electricity means that the residents of Bukmarka-Sudiyal are still strangers to facilities like TV, fans and other electronic gadgets. People living in cities cannot even imagine a life without electricity. But such a life is a reality in this area.
The locals claim that few public representatives dare to venture into this hilly terrain. The only time they see the faces of their leaders is during elections. Most local leaders prefer to send their workers, even during that time. Yet the hope for a better life motivates these people to walk for 24 km to cast their votes in Koracha.
There are around 200 people living in 40 houses of Bukmarka-Sudiyal. We visited the only primary school in the village and interacted with the students. None of the students were able to name the Chief Minister of the state. The school is run by two teachers who come every day from Koracha.
"Most children quit studies after Class V. Sick and pregnant women are treated through home remedies or by traditional clinicians. The serious patients are carried to Manpur on tractor trolleys. Many of them die without treatment. Five villagers have lost their lives for want of medical attention during the past year," says Ram Dugga, a local resident. The latest victim was 18-year-old Sumita Dugga, who lost her life after suffering from dysentery.
Returning from Bukmarka-Sudiyal, we felt as if we were leaving behind a region that is still caught in the 18th century. This area is still left centuries behind in the path of development despite being the constituency of the Chief Minister.
Ironically, officials and public representatives at the district headquarters have no idea of the situation in Bukmarka Sudiyal.
When we discussed the issue with local MLA Tej Kunwar Netam, she was not sure whether such a village even existed. "I can confirm whether such a village exists in my area only after checking with my associates. Nevertheless, I had demanded connecting far-flung villages through roads at a recently-concluded camp," she says.
"There's no road in the area because of forests. We will ensure that the villagers don't suffer. We will come up with a plan to this effect," assured Collector Mukesh Bansal.