After the malnutrition deaths in the area, a half-baked attempt has been made to revive it
Since December 1 last year, 18 infants have died in Attappady — most of them less than two-and-a-half months old. Records with the Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP) office show the babies “did not have the ability to imbibe nutrition.”
Findings of a “mega” medical camp conducted by the Health Department at the Tribal Specialty Hospital at Kottathara on April 20 were startling: 536 of the 836 people from the Scheduled Tribes who participated suffered from malnutrition and anaemia. And 125 of them were children below five years.
The reason for the dismaying statistics can be found in the debris of welfare projects across Attappady over the years. One of them is the Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS). Set up with a financial aid of Rs. 219 crore from the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 1994 under the Rural Development Ministry, AHADS began work two years later with the sole objective of introducing “ecological stability and social engineering through tribal people’s participation.”
By 2005, the society had reclaimed 1,000 hectares of green cover. It created 190 micro-watersheds and four macro-watersheds on tribal lands.
But AHADS came to a standstill in 2010-2011. “We just stopped getting projects,” says N.C. Induchoodan, its Director. About 80 Adivasi staffers, who lost their jobs after AHADS became defunct, are fighting the government for work.
A Rs 195-crore agricultural package announced in 2010 by the State government was diverted to the Agriculture Department. A Rs. 15-crore scheme to “uplift” the primitive Kurumba tribe went to the Tribal Department. Both schemes have not reached the tribal people yet.
Dr. Induchoodan says an AHADS mobile health unit used to visit all 183 tribal hamlets once in three months. Today, post the malnutrition deaths, a half-baked attempt has been made to revive the society. “We have been given a new name — Centre for Comprehensive and Participatory Resource Management (CCPRM). We will take the Attappady model of participatory watershed development to other panchayats,” he says.
But, except for the new name, the AHADS-CCPRM (as it is now called) has not so far been allotted any funds.
Health officials are mostly in a state of denial about the infant deaths. The doctors at the 40-bed Kottathara hospital blame it on the tribal people’s lifestyle.
“At the mega camp, Adivasis suffering from anaemia or malnutrition were given a bottle of medicine and a packet of food that day. Many left after they were told that there was a snag in the weighing machine,” K.A. Ramu, a tribal youth, recounts.
“There are 85 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) here. They go door to door supplying medicines, including iron and folic acid supplements for pregnant tribal women. For two years, ASHA workers were not given their medical kits by the government,” P.V. Radhakrishnan, Project Officer, ITDP, says.
Work has been scarce for the past two months. Rajendra Prasad, president of Thampu, a tribal activist and research group based in Attappady, says this is because the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) works have come to a stop.
Mr. Radhakrishnan however claims MGNREGS was a “great success” last year. Records show Rs. 9.75 crore was spent in 2012. Of the 8,868 families enrolled last year, 4,532 were from the Scheduled Tribes. Fifty per cent of the workdays in 2012 were used by tribal people.
Dr. Induchoodan has a new formula for ensuring AHADS’s survival.
“Local politicians were left out of the earlier Rs. 219-crore project. I believe, if we involve them this time, they will show more interest.”