'The government is working for us, but should deliver on time.'
'A lot of projects are yet to see the light of the day.'
Sushant Kumar Sharma is darting down the newly built six-lane Purvanchal Expressway, before taking a right turn to get on to a two-metre-wide dirt track.
The track will take him to his village, Ramipur, which lies about 45 km from Lucknow in Barabanki district.
"This expressway has been part of my most miserable journey home," says Sharma.
"I walked over 30 km on it when I came back empty-handed during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown."
"But I'm happy now. At least, my village is now connected to the state capital," he says.
But then he adds despondently, "Of what use is this highway to me, except for travelling to cities to find jobs? This expressway hasn't brought any jobs to this region yet."
Sharma, who worked as a security guard in Delhi before the pandemic, is finding it hard to get a permanent job in his district. He now works as a farm labourer and earns about Rs 100 a day after putting in 10-hours of labour.
Sharma is not alone. Many of the migrant workers who returned to their villages in eastern Uttar Pradesh following the lockdown in 2020 have failed to find a job in and around their villages.
But the state government claims that the Purvanchal Expressway, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 16 last year, has been, and will continue to be, a major job creator.
It has listed several industrial development projects in 9 districts along the expressway. These range from textile and beverages units to pharmaceutical and electrical equipment factories.
The government is also planning food, wood, and pharma industries in Barabanki and Ayodhya districts.
"The Purvanchal Expressway will not only benefit UP, but also Bihar. It will also reduce the traveling time between Delhi and Gorakhpur," says Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The ground reality in impoverished Barabanki is, however, quite different from the government's claim that the expressway has brought about jobs for the people of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
According to a 2017 report of the working group on migration by the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, 17 districts account for 25 per cent of the country's male inter-state migration.
Ten of these districts are in UP, and most of them are in eastern UP.
"I have a two-bigha farm. Whatever we grow we eat. There is nothing to sell.
"So, I work as a labourer," says Sombir Singh from Gondwa village in Ayodhya district.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh has the highest percentage (over 84 per cent) of agricultural landholdings below one hectare in the country.
Small landholdings apart, the yearly floods also add to the misery of farmers.
Flood waters from rivers like Ghaghara, Rapti, Kuwano, and Saryu sweep over 30,000 hectares of crops every year, resulting in losses of over Rs 200 million every year, according to government estimates.
"Nobody finds work here. There are no factories, housing societies, and quarries where we can work. I remember the PM called the Purvanchal Expressway the shaan (pride) and kamaal (wonder) of Uttar Pradesh and termed it a "lifeline" of eastern UP. But in reality, this expressway is just a line -- there is no life and pride here," says Samrath Singh, a 23-year-old college dropout.
"Every year hundreds die due to floods and thousands lose their homes and crops. How is this a matter of pride?" asks Singh.
But there are those who maintain that the expressway, which was largely constructed during the pandemic, not only provided jobs to the locals, but also to those who returned from the cities during the lockdown.
"I have worked on this expressway for over two years. Because of this road I have not yet had to look for work," says Ram Pal, a construction worker.
"I am confident that even after it is finished I will get work because the government has enough ongoing projects in our region," adds Pal.
Ask the locals, and many say that though they are happy that the BJP-ruled state government is developing the infrastructure of eastern UP, they are sceptical about the pace of implementation, execution and completion of these plans and projects.
"The government is working for us, but it should deliver on time. A lot of projects are in the pipeline and are yet to see the light of the day, says Poonam Devi, a housewife.
"They should finish those projects as soon as possible."
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com