'The government is just laying foundation stones everywhere.'
'It has hardly inaugurated anything.'
Twenty-year-old Sarita Devi looks tired as she carries a 50-litre jerry can of water along the Banda-Mahoba highway, which connects to the Bundelkhand Expressway.
"My grandmother carried water on a dirt track, my mother carried it on a two-lane road, and now I am carrying water on a four-lane highway. Many things have changed in the past 70 years, but for us, things have remained much the same," says Sarita Devi, who has to fetch water from a well 3 km away from her village.
The Bundelkhand Expressway, which is slated to be completed by March-April 2022, and covers the districts of Etawah, Auraiya, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, is supposed to aid the all-round development of the region. And that includes access to adequate potable water.
Only 3.4 million of the state's 26.4 millon rural households have tap water, making it the worst performing state in this regard, according to the data from the ministry of Jal Shakti, which plans to bring tap water to every Indian home by 2024.
But it is not just water that the people of Bundelkhand are thirsting for. They are also waiting for infrastructure development and jobs.
"This is the land of Rani Laxmibai, who fought to liberate our country from the British. Unfortunately, the people of Bundelkhand are still doing slavery as industrial labourers in other states," says Sanjay Tiwari, a farmer turned industrial labourer in Jhansi district.
"There is hardly any work here," adds Tiwari.
Tiwari started working as a labourer after his land was acquired in 2018 for the ambitious Defence Industrial Corridor in the state.
The corridor, which extends from Jhansi to Chitrakoot, and was supposed to have been facilitated by the Bundelkhand Expressway, is aimed at bringing investments worth Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) and create 250,000 jobs in the region.
But neither has come to pass, as the corridor is yet to be completed.
"They robbed us of thousands of acres of land with the promise of jobs.
"But it has been years and no industry has come here," rues Tiwari.
Most locals echo Tiwari's words.
"The government is just laying foundation stones everywhere. It has hardly inaugurated anything. Jhansi and Chitrakoot are still looking for their smart cities, solar plants, and mandis," says another resident of Bundelkhand.
When asked about the expressway's impact on investments and jobs in the state, UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya skirts the question and says: "Apart from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh too will reap the benefits of the Bundelkhand Expressway. It will also give them better connectivity with the national capital."
Karan Singh, who works as a teacher in a private school in Bundelkhand, feels that infrastructure apart, the government is also not doing enough in sectors like education, health care and crime mitigation.
"As per the NITI Aayog's health index, UP is the worst performing state in the country. The crime rate in the state is the highest ever, according to NCRB data," he says.
"Also, for a population of 230 million, we just have 77 government universities. Why is the government not doing anything to improve on these parameters?" asks Singh.
"If one looks at the data carefully, Bundelkhand is the worst performing region in all these parameters," he adds.
However, not everyone feels that it's all bad news in Bundelkhand.
Though no major manufacturing industry has come to the region since the announcement of the Defence Industrial Corridor, at least the expressway is nearing completion.
"With its droughts, and the bandits roaming around the ravines of Chambal, Bundelkhand was once considered a hellish place. Now, with these expressways and highways, we are feeling relieved for the first time in our life," says 70-year-old Daan Singh, Karan Singh's father.
"Our next generation will reap the benefit of these infrastructure developments," he says.
Similarly, many are pleased with the Narendra Modi government's promise to deliver water to every household by 2024.
But there is scepticism over whether the target will be achieved in the stipulated time.
"I am happy that the government has fixed a deadline for liberating us from the drudgery of fetching water from a distance, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating," declares Sarita Devi.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com