“I haven’t seen God, but if there is someone like him it’s Kamal Da …”. These were the words of Shonkar Mahato, a daily wage labourer at Bhalopahar in Purulia district of West Bengal. Earlier, Shonkar was working under the MGNREGA scheme but the government machinery was highly lackadaisical and he did not earn much even after months of hard work. In Bhalopahar, he is paid 100 rupees per day, while his daughter is receiving education and meals in the Bhalopahar school for free. His living condition has considerably improved.
This region was classified as an arid-3 zone long ago but due to the efforts of Kamal Chakraborty and tribals living in the region, Bhalopahar now boasts of a forest comprising of over 4 lakh trees. These trees have been planted over the past 2 decades and are rich in medicinal properties. While rampant deforestation continues to be a major threat to mankind, the story of Bhalopahar is welcome.
This man-made forest replenished the ground water level and regulated the local weather. The sparsely populated region mostly comprises of tribals who were hunter-gatherers till a few decades ago and were doomed by extreme poverty and malnutrition. In the early 1990s, Mr. Chakraborty a resident of Jamshedpur single-handedly set out to rewrite the fate of these people. Today, the Bhalopahar School has students studying till the 8th grade. The school provides two meals per day and offers free bus services for children commuting from remote areas. Small-scale farming and animal husbandry is also practiced and encouraged, thus giving employment opportunities to several villagers.
“It doesn’t matter if they become doctors, engineers or lawyers, all I want them to be are good human beings” , said Jayiti, a teacher at the school who left city-life 14 years ago to make a difference to this place. Mr. Chakaborty is a nature-lover and makes it a point to instill a sense of responsibility towards the environment in all his pupils. He has also been trying to expand the school till 10th grade but with low funds and no help from government officials or ministers, the progress is quite slow.
Place: Bhalopahar, West Bengal