CPI(M)-constituted expert committee submits report

A six-member medical expert committee constituted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to study the problem of infant deaths due to malnutrition in settlements in Attappady has said “there is ample evidence to indicate that what is happening in the tribal heartland of Attappady is genocide.”

The committee, headed by B. Ekbal, public health activist and neurosurgeon, in its report submitted to the party on May 23 said “neglect of the critical health situation of tribal mothers and children over the years and the disinterest shown to it by society and the criminal neglect on the part of government authorities are evidence to show that the tribal population in Attappady is facing a silent genocide that will wipe out their population in a few decades.”

Talking to The Hindu, Dr. Ekbal said “marginalisation of the tribal people of Attappady from mainstream society had started as way back as in the 1960s when their fertile land was usurped by migrant farmers from Tamil Nadu and the southern parts of Kerala.  The Britishers had cut down the forest to exploit the timber wealth. The tribal people depended on forest produce for their survival. That was destroyed.  They depended on traditional agriculture for food security. Since their land was taken away, they lost their agriculture and food security too. This was the beginning of the silent genocide in Attappady,” he said.

The committee said almost all pregnant women and lactating mothers were found to be anaemic or malnourished. Many women had undergone more than one abortion. There were many cases of premature birth and low birth weight infants, which are the main causes of infant deaths. Most of the newborns weighed 600 grams to 800 grams.

The report said “all the 100 children who were examined on May 19 during the four-day visit of the committee to the tribal hamlets were malnourished.  Most of the children we examined had stunted growth and were malnourished. In 2013, so far more than 30 infants had died within a few hours of their birth.”

It said the anganwadis, the most important basic unit to provide food and health facilities to pregnant women, children, and adolescent girls, had failed to discharge their duties.

Most of the anganwadis were non-functional in Attappady. While anganwadis in other parts of the State supplied milk, egg, and banana to pregnant women and children, what were distributed in Attappady was wheat, upma and green gram.

Though the Special Health Package for Attappady, announced by the government two months ago, promised to provide milk, egg, and banana through anganwadis, no funds were provided for it. “It is shocking that the government and the grama panchayats, instead of providing funds to buy nutritious food, had directed the anganwadi teachers to buy them and submit the bill for reimbursement. 

It said the expert committee found that the grama panchayat members, Asha workers, and tribal promoters did not visit anganwadis regularly.  There was only one anganwadi supervisor in Attappady. Now, five more have been appointed.  However, they were not able to visit the anganwadis for supervision as they were not given any vehicle to travel.  The ICDS Centre has only one old jeep.

The report said “in Attappady the constitutional guarantee to ensure 100 days of work in a year under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was not implemented. If they were not provided employment for 100 days, they should be paid compensation for that as per the Act. But in Attappady it was a total stoppage of MGNREGS for the last many months.

It said that after the winding up of the Rs.219-crore Japan-aided Attappady Hill Area Development Society (AHADS) projects in 2010, the tribal people had been rendered jobless. This led to starvation and deaths due to malnutrition, the expert committee report said.

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