Political leaders in the State are rushing to Attappady in Palakkad to review the health situation in the tribal belt after many deaths of newborn babies were reported from the region in the last few months. The people of the region, however, are glad to welcome back Dr. Prabhudas, former chief medical officer of the Kottathara Government Tribal Specialty Hospital. Dr. Prabhudas, who worked at Attappady for 15 years, is part of the government team appointed to review the malnutrition deaths in the tribal region.

“All of the deaths reported may not be due to malnutrition. But it is a fact that the people of the region are in severe poverty and need care,” said Dr. Prabhudas while he was on his way to Agali to audit the situation.

The stopping of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in the region a few months ago added to the burden of local people. “Women there aren’t getting enough jobs. When the women don’t work, money doesn’t reach their homes,” said Dr. Prabhudas. Settlers in Attappady also take away many of the jobs in the region, leaving little for the less-educated tribals. A tribal worker who does not get sufficient nutrition and healthcare also finds it difficult to work throughout the day and earn money. The government recently announced that MGNREGS would be restarted in the region.

Many of its schemes, however, do not consider the specific needs of tribal population. The State government’s programme of distributing rice and beans to the villagers is an example. “When food is distributed to the people, men may sell the rice and buy alcohol. But if food was prepared at Anganawadis and given to the people there itself, we could ensure that the food reached them,” said Dr. Prabhudas.

What ails Attappady is the government’s lack of understanding of local life in a region where people still practise age-old customs. While the tribals earlier hunted in the forests or foraged for food, modern laws prevent them from hunting in the forest. The traditional system of inter-cropping plants like spinach and dal have been abandoned for water-intensive mono-cropping of cereals.

The solution, said Dr. Prabhudas, could be to promote sound farming practices in Attappady and form a society of local people to carry out farming. “There is potential in Attappady to produce vegetables for all of Kerala. The government could intervene to remove all middlemen and help the local society produce and market vegetables and fruits produced here so that the people can directly reap the benefits,” he said.

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