Wednesday, 29 July 1998

50 years of solitude -- Development shuns AP tribals


July 29, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 28: Uke Venkaiah was 30 years old when India became free. And as the country looks back in its golden jubilee with pride over the development it has achieved, life for him has remained what it was 50 years ago. Venkaiah belongs to the Kondareddy tribe, the most primitive tribal group in Andhra Pradesh. The 50 years of independence have not brought about any change in the lifestyles of this hill-habitant tribal group which is facing extinction.
The population of Kondareddys, inhabiting the inaccessible forest areas of Khammam, East and West Godavari, and Visakhapatnam districts, is fast dwindling, causing concern to anthropologists. According to the latest census, there are just one hundred thousand Kondareddys in Andhra Pradesh and a little over half of them live in Khammam district. The mortality rate in this tribe is the highest among the three major tribal groups in the state the other two being Koyas and Lambadas.
``I hear from the radio that the country has progressed a lot. Iwonder whether it is true when I see my habitation. There has been no development in the last 50 years. There is no electricity and no roads. The same old forest tracts and the same old health problems. Nothing has changed for us,'' says Venkaiah, as an aeroplane flies past the hills surrounding his Uppanapalle hamlet in Chintoor mandal.
Unlike many others, Venkaiah is fortunate to be able to listen to the radio as his hamlet boasts of one. A radio set was brought by a tribal elder a few years ago. But most of the time it remains silent for want of batteries, which are available only in the nearest non-tribal village, a five-hour walk away.
A visit to Kondareddy or Koya hamlets like Chintagandi, Karamanakonda, Gabbilalagondi and Elugalagondi in Khammam district uncovers their miserable health condition. More than 80 per cent of the Kondareddys living in 64 hamlets are malnourished. Women and children are the worst affected. Almost all the children below five years have pot bellies indicatingmalnutrition. Skin ailments, malarial fevers, and diarrhoea are quite common. Doctors rarely visit the habitations.
There are many habitations that the project officers (POs) of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), which is supposed to look after the welfare of tribals, have never visited. Even Uppanapalle, which is just 40 km from the ITDA headquarters at Bhadrachalam, has not seen the face of a PO for six years. The tribal school in the village does not run regularly.
Barefoot and wearing loin cloths, the Kondareddys walk down the hills for about half-a-day to reach the nearest fair price shop to get their monthly ration, 10 to 15 kg of cheap quality rice supplied by the State Government. Tribals have been demanding that the fair price shops be located in the nearest tribal hamlet instead of villages in the plain areas.
The ITDA has opened schools in some tribal hamlets, but many of them remain closed for want of teachers. All the students sit on the floor in one classroom. The residentialschools have no electricity and the surroundings are unhygienic. The tribal children may not regularly get nutritious food as the wardens concerned have to walk for miles together to fetch fresh vegetables and groceries. Children are fed some low-quality rice and watery dal.
In one such residential school at Vidyanagar, the Kondareddy children rehabilitated from Vegisagandi and Baibokka look shabby. They have not had a bath for almost a week. When asked, the warden said he had to receive clothes from ITDA and new clothes ``will be supplied soon''.
In the absence of proper coordination among government departments, the ITDA could achieve little success in its mission to rehabilitate this most primitive tribal group that does not like to live on plains. Certain schemes proposed by ITDA for the welfare of Kondareddys are yet to take off.
Many Kondareddys lost their livelihood after the forest department tightened its vigil over felling of bamboo trees. Left with no other go, this tribe has beenresorting to ``podu'' (shifting cultivation) by levelling huge forest tracts, in the process damaging forests and sealing their future.

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