In the run-up to the Punjab polls when the candidates are being encouraged to campaign on digital platforms due to Covid-19, a village on the Punjab-Himachal Pradesh border has been struggling for decades to ‘connect’.
Hamstrung by poor Internet connectivity, every family in Bhangal village nestled in the hills in Nangal tehsil of Sri Anandpur Sahib (Ropar district), keeps a couple of SIM cards handy in the hope of receiving the elusive signal. For long, they have had just two demands from their long line of MLAs: a post office, and a few mobile towers.
With their post office at Bathri in Una, Himachal Pradesh, many youths from Bhangal have missed job opportunities because of delayed letters. “Since our address is in Punjab but our pin code is of Himachal, people often dismiss our documents as fake,” lament villagers. Poor phone and internet connectivity only adds to their woes. Mundane tasks like checking e-mails or attending online classes turn out to be herculean here.
Villagers say all their other demands, including a government school till class 12, pucca roads and a hospital, pale when compared to their immediate need for connectivity.
Politicians remember the existence of this village during elections only to forget it soon after, rue villagers. ‘What digital campaigning for elections are they talking about? Our vote is for those who can get our post office shifted to Punjab and get a tower or two installed,’’ says Gurnam Singh (42).
He adds that even though the village’s post office has been in HP’s jurisdiction for five decades, no politician has bothered to get the matter resolved, including the incumbent Anandpur Sahib MLA Rana Kanwar Pal Singh of Congress, also the Punjab Vidhan Sabha speaker.
“Every person here has 3-4 SIM cards as sometimes we get signal from Punjab and the other time from Himachal. It is not easy for poor persons to afford 3-4 SIM cards and keep getting them recharged,” grouses Gurnam Singh. “Sarpanches and MLAs from all parties have failed to raise and get these issues solved. All that matters to them is their chair.”
Nohit Rayat (24), who missed his physical test for selection to CRPF, said, “My test was scheduled for February 23 last year but I received the letter on March 15. It was delayed by 20 days and I failed to reach Kapurthala where the test was scheduled. To date, I regret missing such a golden opportunity. We get internet signals but they are too slow to do anything productive such as attending online classes. We cannot use internet or even make a phone call sitting inside our homes.”
Another villager Lakhwinder Singh (26) said, “It has been years that I missed selection to the Indian Navy because of a delayed letter. I had to reach Maharashtra but it was impossible to go there by the time I received the letter. Vehicle registration, bank documents, school board certificates…nothing reaches here in time.”
Jaswinder Singh (41), a former panch, said that most people in their village depend on the snail mail as they aren’t tech-savvy. “My cheque book returned due to this post office confusion. The post office staff in Una don’t know about our village, and often end up returning our letters.”
Manish Kumar (25) says it is not just the delivery of letters which is a problem but also the confusion in their personal documents which is created due to the Himachal pin code. “My Class X certificate was sent by the PSEB Mohali after a correction did not reach me for two months. I went to Mohali and they said it was posted in time. It was again returned to Mohali, and then I had to go to Mohali to collect it by hand. What is worse is when authorities term our documents ‘fake’. They say our Aadhar card and other documents are fake because the pin code is of Himachal and the address of Punjab. The village is politically divided so despite repeated reminders, MLAs or sarpanches have never tried to solve this issue.”
Kulwinder Singh says he missed his Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) entrance because the letter reached him a week after the test in Patiala. “I had already cleared the written test. For the next test, I received the letter a week late. To access basic 2G internet, we have to go to the first floor or step outside the house. We keep multiple SIM cards thinking if not Airtel then BSNL or Idea will catch the signal. How can they talk about online campaigning here?”
The Congress sarpanch Kuldeep Singh claims the villagers are making a mountain of a molehill. “Our post office has always been at Bathri, Himachal, it’s good if it can be shifted. We have nearly 300 households and making a phone call or accessing internet is an issue. I have tried to get mobile towers installed here but the application is still under process.”
Rana KP Singh, MLA Sri Anandpur Sahib: “Yes, there are connectivity issues in villages of my constituency near HP border. I have raised it with officials of BSNL but it is under the Union Ministry of Communications. The Department of Posts too is under the central government’s jurisdiction. Still I have tried to get these issues sorted. I will be doing door-to-door campaigning here as villagers cannot access high speed internet.”
Harjot Singh Bains, Sri Anandpur Sahib candidate, AAP: It is a pity that despite BJP and Congress MLAs getting elected from here for decades, people are struggling to have basic amenities such as a post office, a government school till class 12 and telecom towers. If AAP is voted to power, I promise to get these issues solved.”
2017: Rana KP Singh (INC) (Anandpur Sahib)
2012: Madan Mohan Mittal (BJP) (Anandpur Sahib)
2007: Rana KP Singh (INC)* (Nangal)
2002: Rana KP Singh (INC)* (Nangal)
1997: Madan Mohan Mittal (BJP)* (Nangal)
(* Earlier the village was under Nangal assembly constituency. Following delimitation, Anandpur Sahib and Ropar became two separate constituencies in 2012 and Nangal was dissolved).