A few of the problems faced by the Koraga tribal people are of their own making, according to P. Shivashankar, the Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Panchayat.

“Their present socio-economic backwardness has been imposed on them by oppressive systems of the past. But, with the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGREGA), they now have the power to shape their destinies,” he said.

Dwelling on the failure of previous schemes to provide succour to this tribal community, Mr. Shivashankar said, “Previous schemes tried to spoon-feed the community, whereas the MGREGA takes a different approach and makes the beneficiaries responsible for their own welfare.”

Speaking The Hindu on Saturday after attending the the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations and interacting with Koraga households across the district the previous day, Mr. Shivashankar said, “When we told them about the provisions of MGREGA, the Koragas seemed surprised that such a scheme exists.”

He said, “When we visited them, they had a familiar list of demands.” Most of the Koragas said that they wanted the Government to deepen their wells or dig canals leading up to their lands. “We asked them to do this work by themselves and told them that we would pay for them. They looked at us in disbelief,” he said. In previous schemes such as the Cluster Development Scheme run by the Integrated Tribal Development Project, the lands belonging to Koragas were developed for them. But, the land development project under the MGREGA required the beneficiaries to develop their lands on their own. “This is a significant change,” he said.

In the past, the Government was hiring people to level the lands for Koragas, dig trenches for areca or rubber saplings, add fertiliser and even help in the maintenance of the crop. “Since everything was done for them, there was no initiative from their side. After we did our part of the work, they were not bothering to do their part,” he said.

But now, they had to do all the work by themselves and the Government would pay for them. Quoting a metaphor he said, “Earlier, we were committing the mistake of giving them fish for free, but now we are teaching them how to fish.”

He said that the zilla panchayat, with the help of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Jana Shikshana Trust, would try to effect a change in the mindset of the Koragas, who were accustomed to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. “The NGOs will guide them through every step of this process and encourage them to indulge in best practices in agriculture.”

Action month

Mr. Shivashankar said that October would be a month of intense action and by the end of the month, all the 881 rural Koraga households would be given MGREGA job cards. “On Gandhi Jayanti alone we distributed 20 job cards to Koraga households,” he said.

He said that a major roadblock in their efforts was the absence of arable land in the hands of the Koragas. “If this project has to succeed, land must be distributed amongst the Koragas. We have distributed 74 acres of land to Koraga families during the last month. More lands are being identified,” he said.

More In: Mangaluru