Officials said that 69.77 percent voting was witnessed in 23 polling stations in Singhbum Lok Sabha constituency's Saranda region--Asia's very rich Sal Forest lying at the tri- junction of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh--in the April 17 polling.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it was a meagre 45 percent turnout in these polling stations in Saranda. It was the headquarters of the CPI (Maoist) till the beginning of 2011.

Activists working on the ground said that such a higher voting turnout was possible in the region because of the Union Rural Development Ministry's ambitious plan to reach out to Tribals through a development initiative called Saranda Development Plan.

"It is quite a transformation. It is a defeat of the Maoists and victory of democracy. Saranda Development Plan initiated by the Rural Development Ministry has changed the mindset of the people," says Rajesh Pati, who is associated with a NGO working in the region.

Saranda Development Plan is a brainchild of Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh, with the support of the Jharkhand government, launched the programme in January 2012.

Visiting the area for eight times after launching the initiative, the Minister had handed over cheques, bicycles, solar lights and transistors to the beneficiaries, mostly Tribals.

Ramesh, who oversaw the implementation of the programme, took several steps to improve road connectivity and a building for an Integrated Development Centre (IDC), which will be the local panchayat, a bank, a PDS shop and e-Kendra, at Digha village.

There are around 7,000 tribal households with population of 36,500 in Saranda forest in 56 villages. It is home to the Ho tribes who speak Ho dialect. Of the 56 villages, 14 are forest villages, around 10 are unsurveyed Jharkhand villages and rest are revenue villages. Rural Development Ministry officials said under the programme 7000 solar lamps, transistors and bicycles have been distributed to the people living in the Saranda forest area.

Listing out the steps taken by the Centre to develop the region, the official said "5,500 families have received first installment of IAY and 963 have received the second installment of IAY."

"Out of the 4 Bada Talab 2 are going on. Under National Rural Livelihood Mission 91 new Self-help Groups (SHGs) have been formed and 24 old SHGs have been strengthened and revived," he said.

Two roads are completed and 11 are in progress. The roads are built under the Pradhan Mantri Sadak Yojna (PMGSY).

"56 Artirikt Rozgar Sevak and 37 Artirikt Rozgar Sevika have been selected. 10 forest villages have been given forest pattas. 118 hand pumps have been installed," he said, adding that building construction for an Integrated Development Centre at Digha is under progress.

Singhbhum Lok Sabha constituency comprises the following six legislative assembly segments, Seraikela, Chaibasa, Majhgaon, Jaganathpur, Manoharpur, and Chakradharpur.

The constituency is reserved for the candidates belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. The April 17 elections witnessed a neck to neck fight between Geeta Koda of Jai Bharat Samanta Party and BJP candidate Laxman Gilua.

(Agencies)

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