The State government's decision to wind up the Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS) from January 15 is feared to undo the gains of the unique project. Also, five new projects submitted by AHADS to the State government in 2010 face an uncertain future.
AHADS officials say the decision will badly affect the Rs.1,048-crore comprehensive Wayanad tribal development project announced in the last budget of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. The funding agency of AHADS, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has agreed in principle to fund the Wayanad project. On the State government's request, AHADS had submitted a Rs.25-crore pilot project covering five tribal hamlets in Wayanad last year.
For Attappady, AHADS has prepared a Rs.253-crore total hamlet development programme for the entire tribal population there. It has also submitted to the government a Rs.159.34-crore agriculture package to sustain the gains of the project and to make Attappady the organic food hub of Kerala.
Once AHAD is dismantled, the question as to what will happen to these major projects pending with the government for sanction remains unanswered, the officials say.
Tribal organisations of Attappady lament that an abrupt end to the flow of funds will make lives difficult for economically weaker sections of society. Around 310 registered people's institutions with the active participation of tribal people will be left high and dry. They demand that the government implement the special agriculture package for tribal people through various organisations created under AHADS.
Girijan Sevak Samithy president U.C. Kunchan says organisations such as the Ooru Vikasana Samithy and Thaikula Sanghom, created under AHADS, have helped tribal people to reap benefits. Once AHADS disappears, the infamous contract system for implementing tribal development programmes will return to Attappady. It will strike at the very root of the social capital generated by people's committees and the empowerment of weaker sections.
Former Kirtads (Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) director P.R.G. Mathur says that AHADS has spent 90 per cent of its funds for eco-restoration schemes. It could spend only 10 per cent for tribal empowerment programmes. It is a major shortcoming of AHADS. But the assets and infrastructure created by it should be preserved and used to implement tribal empowerment schemes in future.
M. Sukumaran of the Attappady Vikasana Samithy says that though hundreds of crores of rupees had been spent by the Integrated Tribal Development Programme and local bodies for tribal welfare earlier in Attappady, the benefits have not reached the tribes. So all tribal development schemes should be implemented through AHADS in Attappady, he says.
Last year, in a proposal, the AHADS authorities had requested the government to convert the society into a centre of excellence for utilising its infrastructure and expertise for assisting local bodies in preparing watershed development plans.
Assistant Director (Soil Conservation) of AHADS J. Clement Selvaraj points out that a study by Kerala Agricultural University on changes in land-use pattern between 2001 and 2005 in Attappady had indicated the positive impact of the greening campaign of AHADS. Rejuvenation of water bodies such as wells and streams and improvement of groundwater table are some of the ecological imparts of the project. As much as 11,838 hectares of degraded forest has been regenerated and 5,982 hectares of private wasteland treated with high-density horticulture plantation. Also, 1,554 hectares of fallow land has been brought under regular cultivation, he says. AHADS should be retained to implement the various eco-restoration, watershed development, and tribal empowerment programmes in the State, he adds.