Chenchus wage losing battle against diseases

They yearn fr a motorable road, which officials say is not possible

Agile Chevula Anjanna along with Kudumala Pothana from Ponalabailu Chenchugudem quickly make a makeshift doli, as his wife Anjamma is down with diarrhoea for the last last three days, to take her to the nearest hospital in Yerragondapalem, about 50 km from the interior village in the Nallamala forests.

“We don’t fear the big cats or other wild animals in the forests, But we meekly succumb to diseases which we contract due to unhealthy living conditions,” says the duo while embarking on an arduous 10-hour-long trek through the treacherous terrain in the absence of a motorable road.

“'Despite our best efforts, we miss the golden hour for doctors to provide a new lease of life to our beloved ones,” they add in a conversation with The Hindu.

“Our forefathers had provided safe passage to people passing through the dense forests to Srisailam on the orders of erstwhile Vijayanagara emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya. But we find the going tough. The situation is worse, especially during the rainy season, as a number of jungle streams are in spate,” they explain while crossing a swoolen rivulet near Peddammathalli Chenchugudem.

The Chenchus coexist with the Royal Bengal tiger and other wild animals in the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) and prefer to live with them even after instances of sloth bears fatally attacking them.

No safe water

“We will be fish out of water if we are forced out of the forests,” says Nimmala Naganna before leaving for bamboo cutting into the deep forests. Safe drinking water is a far cry for these tribal people as they have no option but to consume untreated water from jungle streams. Water from the rivulets turns murkier at times of dryspell, he explains.

The motorcycle ambulance equipped with oxygen cylinder, IV fluids and medicines to attend to emergency cases and stationed at Ganjivaripalli is not of any use to the tribal people living in interior villages, as it shifts patients mostly in and around the village in the plains to a 108 ambulance, they complain.

The situation is no different in any of the 70-plus habitations of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in Prakasam district, as they have to physically carry the sick, as motorable road has remained a mirage even 72 years after Independence for the Chenchus of remote habitations like Nekanti, Dadanala, Ishtakameswari, Peddammathalli Chenchugudem, Naritadakala, Gutalachenu, Bhurugundla, Alatam etc.

“The one and only demand of each and every inhabitant of the interior villages is a metal road to Palutla, as timely medical services remain elusive for them,” says Basi Naik, a village elder.

Meanwhile, forest officials ruled out laying roads in the NSTR, saying: “Not even a stone can be moved in the natural habitat of tigers.”

Life expectancy

The life expectancy among the tribal people is between 40 and 45 years, as infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate(MMR) still remain high compared to elsewhere, says Ch. Chalamaiah, a doctor, who has travelled the length and breadth of the Chenchugudems to improve their living conditions.

Child marriages are also rampant, adds Dr. Chalamaiah, who saved a 13-year-old girl and the premature baby born to her by providing specialised treatment here.

Despite the hardship involved, the tribal people are not ready to move out of the forests as only nw have they got the recognition of rights over forest land after the Centre enacted the Recognition of Forest Rights Act (ROFR). How can we move the crops grown in our fields without a motorable road, they ask.


“It is time some of them are trained as para-medics to provide first aid to emergency medical cases before the patients are moved to hospital, as none from the plains prefer to stay in our habitations,” opines 30-year-old Bhumani Ankanna.

Meanwhile, Palutla PHC Medical Officer Srinivas Naik, who visits the habitations in turns once or twice in a month, says the number of malaria cases had come down. But the tribal people are prone to attack by wild animals, including sloth bears, scorpions and snakes, adds Dr. Naik while pleading for allotment of a sports utility vehicle by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency to the medical department to step up the number of visits to Chenchugudems.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 9:08:07 AM |

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