Forgotten people

Print edition : July 30, 2010

Inflation has impacted the lives of lakhs of tribal families living in the backward regions of Orissa like never before.

in Bhubaneswar

AS the sun rises over the green-clad hills in Pipalsahi hamlet under Tikabali block of Orissa's Kandhamal district, Bipra Mallick and his wife, Ambati Mallick, wake up and worry about their day's income and expenditure. How will they sustain the family of six when the prices of essential commodities are rising by the day? Bipra's family has been eligible for 25 kilogrammes of rice at Rs.2 a kg under the below poverty line (BPL) ration card scheme since 2008. Since this is not sufficient for the whole month, he buys more low-quality rice from the market at Rs.16 or Rs.17 a kg.

There is extreme poverty, food scarcity and lack of job opportunities in the area. That was why Bipra sent away two of his young sons to work in a coir manufacturing unit in far-off Kerala about a month ago. The couple, their two daughters, the youngest son and Bipra's widowed mother subsist on the daily wage he earns.

Bipra is a landless agricultural labourer for most part of the year. He also gets work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). But since he does not get work on a daily basis and since labour-intensive work, such as building infrastructure, is not undertaken all through the year, he struggles to make ends meet. The rainy season is the worst part of the year for the Mallicks and the other families living in the hamlet as no construction work is undertaken in those months. The hamlet has one pucca house and a few dwelling units provided to BPL families under the Indira Awas Yojana.

Tribal villagers carrybundles of firewood to be sold in Phulbani town in Kandhamal district.-DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

Bipra's family is not the only one affected by inflation and price rise. Inflation has impacted the lives of millions of poor tribal people living in the backward interior regions of Orissa like never before.

Prasanta Bindhani, a 30-year-old tribal youth of Kambadanga village situated along the Phulbani-Tikabali road finds it difficult to meet the day-to-day needs of his three-member family as he does not possess a BPL card and does not own landed property. In addition to this, he has to find money to buy medicines for his daughter whenever she has an attack of malaria, which is endemic in the region.

Three years ago, Prasanta had applied for a BPL card to avail himself of rice at Rs.2 a kg. But the card has not been issued to him till date. The local sarpanch told him that the authorities had stopped issuing new BPL cards for the past several months.

Rajendra Kumar Gurgi, a sharecropper in Bedasunga village located a few kilometres from the Tikabali block headquarters town, was working in the fields near his home when this correspondent met him. He also does not possess a BPL card, which would have helped him cope with price rise. I have serious problems in meeting the daily needs of the family. Moreover, lack of irrigation facilities in the region is affecting my agricultural operations, he said.

Sixty-year-old Patras Mallick accuses the Naveen Patnaik government of thriving on false promises. He and his family have been living in a tent in Shanti Nagar, a rehabilitation colony for the victims of the anti-Christian riots of 2008, at Nandagiri village near G. Udaygiri town. Fifty-eight families had fled their villages during the communal violence that broke out in the aftermath of the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmanananda Saraswati. Eleven families, including that of Patras Mallick, are yet to be given land and financial help to build a dwelling unit in Shanti Nagar.

PRASANTA BINDHANI OF Kambadanga village finds it hard to meet the basic needs of his three-member family.-LINGARAJ PANDA

The residents of Shanti Nagar complained that the price rise had affected them badly. The situation is so bad that whenever work is not available in the neighbourhood we are unable to travel out to get work as daily wagers because we don't have money to buy bus tickets, a resident said.

Price rise has dealt a severe blow to the 58 families living in the colony particularly because the government has not provided them any land for cultivation. Also, they are not covered under the NREGS or any other employment generation scheme.

In fact, Kandhamal presents a classic example of poverty amidst plenty. It is said to be the richest district in the State as far as forest resources are concerned. But poverty in the tribal-dominated forested region seems to be a deep-rooted malady.

With very little cultivable land and with the virtual absence of irrigation facilities, the tribal people of Kandhamal face severe shortages of food and income. The business community of Kandhamal mainly consists of people from other districts of the State such as Ganjam, Nayagarh and Puri. These traders pay only a small amount to the tribal and non-tribal farmers for their produce, depriving them of an adequate good income.

In 2008, when the district hit the headlines in the wake of widespread anti-Christian riots, it was also identified as an extremely food insecure district of Orissa. The Food Security Atlas of Rural Orissa, which was prepared by World Food Programme (WFP) in association with the New Delhi-based Institute of Human Development (IHD), said that the rate of food insecurity was higher in Kandhamal than in the districts coming under the backward KBK (Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput) region of the State. Kandhamal has not been included in the KBK region, which receives Central funds under various developmental projects.

BIPRA MALLICK WITH his family at Pipalsahi village in the district. He is unemployed for most part of the year.-LINGARAJ PANDA

The state of uncertainty that has gripped the tribal populations in Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri, Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts as a result of the lack of development in every sphere has not spared Kandhamal.

The situation in the region has remained unchanged basically because of a lack of employment opportunities and the dismal functioning of the public distribution system. The administration has failed to issue BPL cards to a large number of poverty-stricken families, adding to the misery of hundreds of tribal families.

The visit to the interior villages and the interaction with the residents made one thing clear: Those in authority who shed crocodile tears for the tribal people and the other economically backward communities are unaware of the ground realities in the tribal areas.

Faced with utter neglect, the tribal people are becoming more and more inclined towards the Maoist ideology. The civil administration seems to be virtually absent in the interior areas of the tribal-dominated regions. The Police Department is, however, more active as the forces are fighting the Maoists.

It is high time bureaucrats running the different departments of the State government started visiting the districts that are far away from Bhubaneswar to oversee the implementation of the anti-poverty schemes of the State and Central governments.

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