Campaigning is the only poll connect for remote Bengal hamlet
Elections come and go but for the residents of remote Laltong -- a hamlet nestled along the banks of the Teesta river deep in the forests of West Bengal's Darjeeling district -- electricity is still a luxury, and poll notifications and awareness drives fail to reach the people.
It is only when candidates turn up for campaigning that residents get an inkling of the democratic exercise about to take place in this sleepy eastern Himalayan village.
The hamlet lies in the Dabgram-Phulbari assembly constituency, and is part of the Dabgram-1 panchayat.
Annexed to the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, this pristine village comprises 200 people. Earlier there were 28 families. It has now gone up to 35. The number of voters is over 100.
To reach the small village from Siliguri town, one has to pass the Satmile forest range office, then travel seven km through the forests, and cross a wooden bridge that is often the haunt of elephants and other wild animals.
A further two km down are a number of two storeyed wooden houses with tin shades. That is Laltong.
The wooden houses are a protection against herds of marauding elephants, who raid routinely.
Its remoteness can also be gleaned from the fact that Laltong is dependent on neighbouring Chamakdangi for healthcare and other needs since the village lacks a basic primary healthcare centre.
"There is no electricity and no scope of watching television.
“Newspapers are not available. Residents usually have no idea when elections are going to be held. It is only when the candidates of various political parties arrive for campaigning that they come to know," Prem Lakshmi Sherpa, a member of the gram panchayat administering Laltong and Chamakdangi, said.
With the Teesta eating away land (around 200 bighas), Laltong witnessed a shift from farming to cattle rearing and dairying. As the population increases, youngsters demand development.
So far, the only light at the end of the tunnel has been the installation of solar panels, an initiative launched after the Trinamool Congress came to power. "While it provides electricity to light up homes and enables youngsters to study, it is not enough for running TVs. There has been some development but we want more," says first-time voter S. Kumar Rai.
Laltong goes to polls in the second phase on April 17.