The Human Rights Forum has observed that the protected water system in Visakhapatnam agency region is in shambles and demanded the State Government to immediately rectify the situation by taking appropriate measures.

A three-member HRF team visited the Paderu area of the district to study the drinking water crisis in the Agency and the government's response to it. The team visited nine villages in the three mandals of Paderu, Hukumpet and Munchigput on Wednesday and Thursday. “The drinking water situation in the area is rapidly going from bad to worse. In all except one village that the HRF team visited, adivasis are relying on open well water and mountain springs for drinking water. These sources, particularly the wells, are polluted and the water is unfit for consumption,” HRF State general secretary V.S. Krishna told The Hindu.

What was shocking was that the protected drinking water supply schemes were in a shambles in the agency. The schemes exist only on paper and there was very little realisation on the ground. “Notwithstanding tall claims, the government has failed miserably in ensuring that the adivasi population is able to access safe, potable water. This is true of the entire 5{+t}{+h} Schedule tracts from Adilabad to Seetampeta,” he said.

The adivasis themselves pointed out that the best way to provide them potable water is by what is known as the “gravity scheme”. This involves tapping water from the perennial mountain springs (“oota neeru”) atop a hill adjacent to the tribal habitation and carrying the water through a filter bed and pipeline to a tank in the village below. In only one village (Kinneralova in Hukumpet mandal) did we see this gravity scheme in place. Consequently, the khonds of that village have an adequate supply of clean drinking water.

The “gravity scheme” is highly appropriate for the Paderu Agency since most villages are located at a height below and not far from perennial mountain springs. Constancy of flow is assured. Moreover, the scheme is not expensive and does not require any electricity either. It is by far the easiest and safest way to provide drinking water to most adivasi habitations, including very remote villages.

The adivasis have made countless appeals to the administration for installation of the “gravity schemes” but to no avail. Time and again, the government has failed to fulfil this very basic requirement of providing clean drinking water to the people. This negligence has resulted in adivasis succumbing year after year with fatal regularity, to totally preventable diseases. Unless the government takes up in a concrete manner and completes protected water schemes, yet another tragedy might unfold in the Agency, the HRF leader observed.

With regards health, the onset of summer and the rains to follow, adivasis in the Agency region are susceptible to fevers, in particular the deadly falciparum malaria, Mr. Krishna noted. Despite concrete suggestions by experts like K R Venugopal in the past and notwithstanding assurances by officials, we observed that the administration is not giving the matter the serious attention it deserves.

Preventive measures

Basic preventive measures like anti-malarial spraying are to be done thrice a year (the first round in June, the second round in September and a special round in March). The special round spraying has been delayed by about two months and has only just begun, that too not in all villages. Mosquito nets are to be supplied to all adivasi families free of cost but this has not happened despite an assurance by the government to the High Court in a public interest litigation almost 10 years ago. A combination of low nutritional levels among the adivasis, a fall in employment during summer, lack of access to clean water and a pathetic health infrastructure can have fatal consequences for the adivasis.

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