Stranger In Their Own Land
31 October, 2005
150 kilometer away from Vishakapattanam towards Orissa in the Akru Valley and Anantgiri Mandal areas, Malaria has emerged as a major epidemic killing about 2000 people in two months, as per reports appearing in a section of Press. Being Agency area, this forest zone is home to a number of tribes, a number of them are Primitive one like Parang, Poraja, Gadaba and Konds. Other tribes here are Valmikis, Bhagata, Kondara, Nokdara. Most of them have been involved in the Shift cultivation in the forest but lately the forest department has not been renewing this facility therefore resulting a major livelihood crisis.
Onslaught of Malaria
As I pass through this beautiful region, the sun rays over the mountain looks like coronation the mountains. The beauty is unmatchable, simply superb. I take a tour of this region to understand as why people die. Why all kind epidemics comes in the mountains which we all pretend to return. Why the most beautiful zones on the earth free from pollution and corruption are prone to such dangerous perversion that even HIV Aid is spreading wings in the area. Is it ignorance of the communities living here or betrayal by so-called civilised world who have exploited the mountains and forests and made people strangers whose livelihood was forest and nature?
Village Mardagoda under Gram Panchayat Egyvasova in Anantgiri Mandal could be module village. A very clean village nearly half kilometre away from the main road and connected with a kuchha road, when I make a visit, it is rather surprising as why Malaria attacked here. A girl in her early teens is sitting in the front door of her house, her parents are away. We notice that she suffered from fever. In the 34 houses that this village has, with a total population of 119 persons, more then 75% people had Malaria but they all survived because the Primary Health Center was near and secondly, the local non governmental organisation ( NATURE) has been working here and mobilising them.
Adivasi Self Help
Kondwara works as an agricultural labour and earn Rs 30 for her work in the shift cultivation in the coffee plantation. She is a member of Van Sankrakshan Samiti. Her family looks better. The tribals speak their own language, which is not Telugu. The village definitely look much better as it is clean and houses are not adjacent to each other but have enough space between them. The road is a pucca one and we can see a school and primary health centre nearby. The fact is that the Adivasis want to a better life. They want a complete balance so their future generations are not left behind. Two Self Help Groups are functioning here since November 1999. Ishwari Group has 17 members while Bhavani group which was formed I 2003 has16 members. The Ishwari Group recently got an amount of Rs 1,73,000 as their credit from the Bank. They opted for sheep breeding. Even when the bank is about 25 kilometer away the group members feel proud to visit there. Today they have 119 sheep. One of them died due to anti Malaria spray.
Community Health Workers Kanthamma Chettum, has two children. One son and one daughter. They have five acres of land but that is shared by other members of the family also. The main crop was Rice, ginger. The Joint family is living together for years but the revenue department has not bothered to give them entitlement. The Public Distribution System is working here in the village. Rice, kerosene, oil, onions are the products which they get in it. Perhaps PDS here seems much better shaped then totally disorganised one in Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. There is no work for the men. Mostly work is done on contract like drenching and bag filling. Forest department is the main employer as time and again they give work for digging and drenching.
This village has tribal sarpanch and Kora Sunita is member of Village Education Committee. When I ask her about the status of mid day meals in the school, she informs that about 55 children study in the school and they distribute rice with Sanbhar curry. Saturdays they give sweet to the children.
No Food to Eat
Social Organisation NATURE which has documented deaths in the region and whose vast network is creating an alternative grain bank and tribal identity in the entire agency areas of Viskhapattanam says that their reports suggests that over 1,200 people died in 11 Mandals of Visakhapattanam. This means that the entire Agency area with 244 Panchayat is under the severe threat of hunger and malnutrition. This virtually is a food crisis, says an aid worker. The Adivasis today have no food to eat. They are eating Ragi, a local tribal product, with boiling it in water. As a person myself from the mountains of Uttaranchal, I could understand the plight of tribals eating Ragi which is a great food if eaten as a supplement. One cannot survive just eating Ragi in boiled water. The absence of nutritional products in the food, gives rise to different kind of diseases ultimately make every one of them prone to starvation and malnutritional problem.
Unfortunately, since the shift cultivation is virtually a big No from the forest department, and land holding nothing, the tribals have nothing to eat. This phenomena has increased in past few years resulting in total lack of nutrition and food resources among the tribal. Tribal are working as bonded labours in many farms of big feudal lords here. The migration from Orissa has further put strain on the resources. Whatever revenue land is there is it barren. For the last three years, according to people working here, there has been no ' Food for Work' programme as the Member of Parliament here belongs to Hyderabad.
With more tribal dying of malnutrition and the entry of Jindal to drench the rich bauxite mining resources of this area, the grand entry for the Naxalite is inevitable. There is evidence of the same. Infact, some of the activists here openly said that Naxals have provided better security to the tribals then others. No doubt, the NGOs are working here but they hardly influenced the government and most of the time becomes submissive to the authorities. Some of them even exploit the tribals but in a situation where the police after banning the Naxlites are looking for prey. Now, the landlords fear of the Naxal retaliation and the wages are given properly. But police terror has now started. They are picking up people and harassing them. Women have also become their target. In the absence of policewomen, they fear sexual harassment. It is reported that Gudan Kota Veethya, Chintapally are the areas controlled by the Naxlites. Tribals therefore are sandwiched between the police and Naxalites, as both are trying to extract information from them. Problem with the police is that they cannot provide protection to them.
Dance of death
In the high mountain range of Shimliguda, where we are informed we have a railway station, which is on then highest altitude, we are moving towards a village of PTGs i.e. primitive tribal group, who are about 46 families. The access road is deeply disturbing and might have worked on food for work programme. Most of them never got the food part and wages much below. That is our commitment to tribals that the schemes never reach them. We exploit their warmth and innocence. The communities here are mainly Kandauara, Kotiya, Paringpurja and kamari. This village is under Kottapalluguda Gram Panchayat , about 12 kilometer from Arku valley. The access to this village is really tough. It is around 7.30 pm and the sun has already gone behind. Walking up to village in the dense forest indicate the tough life of the people. From the above, village look good with a single bulb connection provided to all. 4 people died of Malaria in this village in which three belonged to a family. We meet Champa, who is just in her 20s. An innocent looking face, she lost her three family members last month due to Malaria. Hari, her husband 27 years of age died. His brother Guru 25 and Laichan 55, her mother in law also died. She has just an acre of land. Three months have passed and she has not received any help. She is living with her father in law which itself is a tricky relationship as fear of exploitation are more in such a situation.
Her husband complaint of vomiting and fever. He was taken to hospital, which is 12 kilometres away at Akru valley. It is difficult to take a person from here but they have no option. Water, it is said, contaminated in this area as a result of mining here. Her parents have virtually left and don't want to look to her. So far she has not got any thing from the administration or the government. She is just surviving because of the villagers. Gram Nayak (village elder in tribal tradition) Govind is 35 years of age and is childless. His child died. He is here to resolve the crisis in the village. Resolve the inner community differences and deal with the land disputes also. He is also surviving on eating Ragi. ' Hunger is chronic and persistent in this area in the absence of land, sir. Land is not fertile. We eat Ragi and potato. In the absence of a proper meal, we develop TB and Malaria. To add to our woes is contaminated water.'
Samata Judgement and its misinterpretations
A geographically rich belt and yet remain hungry. But this hunger is not news. The mining has deforested a very big region and contaminated the water. Power hungry politician and their industrial cohorts know that hungry people live in richest areas. The poor tribal in this agency areas are living on the golden zone which Mr Naveen Jindal know better then them. The nationalist Jindal should understand that people are more important then the nation. In the absence of people, no nation can progress and survive.
The Bauxite ores in the region are a source of envy for big industries in India and abroad and the fifth schedule is a challenge to their freedom hence efforts are being made to change the entire schedule. During the last fifty years, it is the Adivasis who have bore the brunt of the developmental process. It is not that they don't want development but whose development? The development added with macho nationalism has proved to be a death knell for Adivasi livelihood. Over it there are 'experts' making the lives of the Adivasis miserable.
The Agency areas all over the country are under the regulation of Scheduled Area Land Transfer Act, which prohibit the transfer of land or immoveable property from the tribals to non-tribal beneficiaries. Apart from this every state has enacted such laws, which are in conformity of the central law. But in spite of all these provisions to save the tribals from the onslaught of outsiders things went exactly in the opposite direction. Projects were sanctioned, railway track were laid inside the agency area and mineral based companies started operating in the area with the blessings of the State government and its officials. Big names like Andhra Phosphates Ltd, Indian Rayon Industries Ltd, Kalyani Minerals, Visaka Mines and Minerals etc have been working in the reserved forest area. One wonder where are our tiger fundamentalists who are opposing every act of distribution of land to the tribals and Dalits under the guise that the it will reduce India's already dilapidated forest cover to nothing. While one should not ignore the wider environmental concern, but to attribute the degradation of the forest to the Adivasis is not only questionable but also condemnable. Those who have seen systematic isolation of the tribals during the past fifty years would verify what has development done to the tribals and what exactly is this 'so-called' preservation of forest. Of course, if the funding for the environmental cause comes from Industries milking the rich natural resources in the agency areas the what would you say about the 'experts'.
The biggest challenge therefore was in the Borra Reserved Forest' where the companies got renewable lease for more then 20 years. The tribals never got rehabilitated. And here comes the role of civil society organisations in making people aware of the dangers of such kind of development, which uproot people from their habitat and make them more vulnerable and on the other side, reduce the forest cover to nothing. The 'tiger' lovers remain mute to such deforestation. If you speak against the industries then you are termed as 'jholawalas' and outdated 'communist'. Clearly, they feel all those who speak against this injustice have to be communists and none other then them. Tragic mentality, bankrupt ideas.
The historical judgement given by the Supreme Court on the writ petition filed by local civil society organisation SAMATA became benchmark for Adivasi Self Rule in each and every agency areas. Governments shied away from making entry in the forest again though industries were still working.
But how can you ignore the temptation of 'Indian shining'. How can you 'ignore' the big companies who want to invest in your state? It is alleged that former Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu was keen that Schedule V should go and let the centre bring a new law eliminating Adivasis Self Rule as it was becoming too hot for the government to handle. Everytime, the Supreme Court rejected the petition. One cannot expect too much from the courts also as if we go by the recent judgements regarding NALCO, BALCO, on the issue of Narmada, Reservation, slums and many more, then not much should be expected from the courts. Of course, exceptions are always there and in the case of Samata, it is Justice K Ramaswami, who needed the applaud.
The Judgement clearly said that leasing the lands in the Scheduled Areas for mining or any other purpose to Non Adivasis contravenes the fifth schedule of the constitution which talks of Advasis autonomy in the these areas. In fact, the court recognised the importance of Gram Sabhas in protecting the safeguarding the community interests and natural resources.
State has the authority to suck the natural resources
However, one of the major points of the judgement was that 'mining in scheduled areas can only be taken up by the State Mineral Development Corporation or a cooperative of Adivasis.' After their failures in getting a redressal, this point seems to be working in the minds of the government. Interestingly, this has turned out to be antithesis of the entire judgement. This Judgement was once remarked historical, now turning out a bone of contention between state and Adivais and is prone to misinterpretation. That precisely is the aim of the state, which want to open up the debate and the issue not only in the court but also in the parliament.
It is reported that the Government has allowed AP Mineral Development Corporation Ltd to do the mining in the agency areas. It will provide raw material to the company of Jindals who have set up an office in the region. And the Jindal will then do the needful. Now, this is more then what Jindal would have expected. Now they have no problem. They can get things easier from the government in lesser resources and use the mineral to greater profit making. The Adivasis remain landless and prone to hunger. The deaths in the name of hunger are being portrayed as attack by Malaria. The recent rains have again played havoc in the forest. The Industries when came to the area were supposed to develop not only schools but also health centres and employment generation for Adivasis. While road network has developed in the area but for the deforestation purposes. The far-flung areas remain out of common facility and shift cultivation now being shut; a more active forest department has also started hitting on the tribals below the belt. The department remain the biggest challenge for the tribal, not only in terms of their exploitation but also in terms of providing employment. With land out of bound and shift cultivation also being closed, the Adivasis have nowhere to go and nothing to eat. They fear that with mining in the area again coming in disguised their lives would be endangered. It is at this point of time that the entry of Naxals cannot be overlooked. They remain the biggest source of protection of the tribals from the forest mafia and big industries. It is no point blaming them when the state has abdicated its responsibility and it feel satisfied with symbolic representations of some Member of Parliament in the name of Adivasi identity without taking into considerations the demand and fears of the community. Agency areas of Vishakapattinam need to be properly taken care of, otherwise, they could become another Satyamanglam forest, with government will have to share blame for its failure to protect Adivasi cultural heritage as well as their economic interest and livelihood.