17-year-old Arjun Tangul from Vadapadar village, a few kilometers away from one of Orissa’s most heavily guarded public infrastructures, has a head start. Two months ago, he opened his first mobile phone and accessories shop in his 630 square kilometer area spanning his 150 villages and his 30,000 inhabitants.
Arjun’s business is located just 3 kilometers from Gulpriya Setu, a 910-meter-long bridge that connects the mainland to the most remote part of the formerly divided Orissa state of Chitrakonda in Markangiri. Thirty-two years after he began work on a bridge over the Shirel River, a tributary of the Godavari, Prime Minister Naveen Patnaik launched the project which he completed in 2018.
Arjun’s little shop operates from 10am to 4pm out of his thatched hut, where passport-size photographs and caste photos are taken for his village and many others. We also offer certificate printing and scanning services. From one to three phones are sold a month, he says, because “with slow internet, he can do little more than display Google Maps.”
Still, access to Google Maps means a lot to Arjun and his friends. It calculates the distance to the destination and accordingly helps the non-tribal settlers in these villages to buy gasoline in used canteens at a price of 10 rupees higher than the pump price per liter. increase.
Locals say the mobile phone shop in the heart of what was once the home of Naxal is a “miracle”. The Maoists either disapproved of these devices or ordered them to be banned entirely. Earlier this month, Odia’s handwritten message, attributed to Left Wing Extremists (LWE), ordered people in Olapadar village not to make or receive phone calls without prior permission.
But some people rush to insert warnings. “A lot was done in these villages in the name of the Maoists. There was no way to know if something was an order or a canard, but it was always safer to obey,” said the shop’s owner. The visitor refused to give his name.
“The best way to participate in a candid discussion about the Maoists is to remain anonymous. But this will change everything,” he says, pointing to the newly built road.
New roads are transforming the local economy. A good example is the story of the two shops at the end of the Gulpriya Bridge.
Dhiraj Byapari, 46, is sitting in his shop in Jambai village with a wry smile on his face. His store, which has an impressive selection of everything from groceries to stationery to clothing, “will go out of business in a few months,” he says. Directly across from him, his 28-year-old Ajay Malik, owner of a small garage, is gleeful about the bridge.
In the pre-bridge era, his strategically located shop was a few hundred meters from where ships carrying people across the sea were moored, so it saw some of the busiest business in the area. , says Dhiraj.
“People were buying groceries on the way home,” he says. Business got better when the boat was delayed. From the crowd waiting by the water, women strolled in to buy trinkets and children clamored for toys. Dhiraj said his shop used to sell goods for about 2,000 rupees a day, but now he is down to less than 600 rupees.
Meanwhile, Ajay thinks his business is growing. “More men are buying bikes now. Invest in auto-rickshaws too. I’ll be fixing most of them. Maybe I can hire more people,” he says, adding that the space is less than 25 square feet. I looked around my shop in that thatched hut.
Road prospects are also driving down prices on essentials. Farmers in this previously blocked area mainly grow ragi and millet. Fresh fruits and vegetables were shipped by water and were expensive.
“Now the price of vegetables is going down. People here like to eat vegetables like cauliflower and carrots in the winter, but we couldn’t afford them. Now supplies are slowly increasing.” and prices are falling,” said a resident of Jantapai village.
Trucks carrying construction materials come in all day. The tribe is full of ideas such as opening a dhaba to accommodate truck drivers. Poultry, found in most people’s backyards, was previously consumed at home, but is being revalued as a source of income by being sold to truck drivers, helpers and road contractors.
The development is also causing conflict, but roads are being built so the tribe can walk to the only Paper Metra police station in the area to register reports.
More and more people are thinking about concepts such as property rights. “In the past, land disputes were not frequent. But now locals are starting to think about land boundaries. There is a debate about land boundaries.
Budram Naik, 55, is the head of a family of six sons, two daughters and 12 grandchildren from Jantapai Village. His family says he owns 30 acres of land, 10 of which belonged to him, but he’s worried he doesn’t have the papers to prove ownership. “Neighbors can claim my land as theirs. There have been some arguments,” he says.
CPM leader Ali Kishore Patnaik said the lack of landpatta is also an obstacle for the tribes to take advantage of government benefits. “State governments have to allocate land for war,” he says.