There is less to the buildings of Sanagon than meets the eye.
On the surface, Sanagaon has everything for “development” and “poverty alleviation” to occur. There are eight buildings in the bazaar. One houses the Agricultural Development Bank, and “Bikes Medical Hall”. Two structures exist for the health-post. There is also one house for the Veterinary Service Center, and another for the Sajha Sahakari Sansthan. There is the building for the “Nirdesit Gramin Samiti”, meant to provide villagers with provisions at low cost. There is also a “restaurant”. The primary school stands a little off the main trail, and the high school further down.
In these forgotten hills of western Nepal, Sanagaon might be regarded as having it all: a health post and a pharmacy, a bank, a place to treat livestock, a place to obtain unnat seedlings and fertiliser, and two schools. Also, there is piped water.
In reality, Sanagaon has nothing. Every office is dysfunctional. The workers have no motivation and no work. The villagers accept the presence of the development bureaucracy but do not expect it to deliver. Sanagaon shows how it is not enough to provide “infrastructure” for “development”. The educated bureaucracy must be made to work, but the villagers should also know enough to demand delivery.
Sanagaon lies six to seven hours walk northeast of Silgadi, which is the seat of Doti District, Seti Zone. The village lies on the main trail to the districts of Achham, Bajhang and Bajura.
All three of Sanagaon’s government buildings are ghost structures. Take the schoolhouse. The Seti Project began work on the building about seven years ago with local help. Due to a misunderstanding about payment between the local builders and the Project, the construction was never completed. The Regional Director of Education has visited the site three times but nothing has materialised. However, the villagers once heard over Radio Nepal’s Jilla Samachar that “Sanagaon’s Saraswati Prathamik Vidyalaya has been completed…”
A family planning camp was held recently in the roofless schoolhouse because the health-post building is in even worse shape. Work on this building was begun in 1976 and the Ministry of Health sanctioned NRs175,000 to provide amenities. The money has been spent, but the building today remains a skeleton and has never been fit for habitation. The villagers point their fingers at the Central District Officer (CDO) in Silgadi, Sanagaon’s own Pradhan Pancha, and the contractor.
The work of the health-post, meanwhile, is carried on in a shack built by villagers in 1974, which itself is barely habitable. Patients are seen on the landing; the in-charge lives inside with his family, while the peon shares the upstairs room with staff from another office.
Work on the Nirdesik Gramin Samiti structure was begun in 1975 with money obtained from the Agriculture Development Bank. The building plans were ambitious, but were never to see fruition. Five of the remaining houses in the bazaar are privately owned and are rented out to the offices.
Those assigned to man the offices of Sanagaon use the first excuse to stay away for extended periods. The officers of the Veteniary Services Center and the Bank, for example, are in Silgadi for two weeks if they are in Sanagaon for three days. It is said that the health-post was run by the peon for years while the in-charge stayed in the relative luxury of Silgadi. The Sajha Sahakari Sansthan has no work because no supplies have arrived for the past year. So the keeper, who is a local, happily continues to work his fields.
The few office-holders that tarry in Sanagaon’s bazaar spend their days gambling, and their evenings drinking. There are many fights among intoxicated civil servants, but the police, too, stay away from Sanagaon.
Many Sanagaon households are run by women, who are responsible not only for the children but also the aged parents and in-laws. One or more young men from almost every family is away working in Bombay.
While there is an exodus to Bombay, no one ever visits Kathmandu. Says one villager, “Kathmandu does not have any use for us. We are illiterate. In Bombay, a person who cannot even sign his name can earn four thousand rupees a month in companies,” says Prem Singh Kunwar, who is in Sanagaon only for the planting season.
Sanagaon’s high school is a little below the bazaar. It has over 90 students, but only two are girls. “1 am not very optimistic about this place,” says Site Ram Joshi, who has a college degree in Sanskrit from Bombay, and teaches at the high school. “Really, Sanagaon has no future.”
After Sanagaon’s desolation, it is difficult to think that there could be hope left in far-west Nepal. But south of Silgadi, also seven hours’ walk away, is the village of Mudbhara. It is everything that Sanagaon is not. There is food, there is work, and hope.
Mudbara is off the main trail, so those who do not have business in Mudbara do not go there. The village has a high school with 200 pupils, over 80 of whom are girls. There is a working health-post, but other than that there is no sign of governmental intervention. Many of the village houses have toilets. Water was brought in several years ago and pipes and taps are well maintained. Seasonable vegetables are available.
Mudbara is a “dry” village ever since the Pradhan Pancha convinced the villagers a decade ago to stop brewing liquor. Even though the local three-penny store carries some packs of cards, there is no open gambling. Fewer people from Mudbara go to Bombay, because they seem to find employment in the Nepali administrative services. Tika Ram Joshi says he has been to Bombay, “but that was in the days of the British Raj,” he says. He was there from 1929 to 1964.
S.B. Dixit recently visited Sanagaon and Mudbara.