Governor’s Intervention Sought To Improve Health Situation In Fifth Schedule Region

Shri ESL Narasimhan
Governor of Andhra Pradesh

Dear Sir,

Subject: Welfare of Adivasis – Lack of access to clean water and health care – Intervention sought

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) is a citizens’ forum established with the objective of working for the protection of Constitutionally guaranteed and internationally recognised rights of the people and for the right of the people to propose and strive for new rights not yet recognised in national or international law. The right to a wholesome and dignified life is the touchstone for the rights that may be aspired for. We are concerned with, among other things, ensuring that the government, being the carrier of democratic and welfare responsibilities, fulfills those obligations.

Sir, you are the custodian of good governance in the 5th Schedule areas of the State and we recall that upon taking oath of office as Governor of Andhra Pradesh for a second term you expressed the wish to visit the tribal areas. We would like to therefore, bring to your notice the appalling state of affairs in respect of the basic needs of the people resident in these areas. We refer specifically to their lack of access to clean drinking water and health. Clean water is a basic human requirement and the government has a responsibility to provide it to citizens. Over these many decades, governments have failed in this duty. This negligence has resulted in Adivasis succumbing year after year with fatal regularity, to totally preventable diseases.

It is truly distressing that a number of Adivasi habitations, stretching all the way from the Utnur Agency in Adilabad district to Seetampeta Agency in Srikakulam district are unable to access safe drinking water. The problem is not specific to the summer season alone, though it assumes critical levels during those months. Even when there are rains, residents of the hill tracts have to make do with contaminated water that is unfit for human consumption.

We will cite an instance to substantiate the point. Following media reports that a large number of Adivasis had succumbed to various ailments at Seesaipanuku village in Jarakonda panchyat of Hukumpet mandal in the Paderu Agency division of Visakhapatnam district, we visited the village in the first week of August last year. Our enquiries revealed that at least 25 Adivasis of the village had died over the past two years due to gastro-enteritis, pulmonary tuberculosis and malaria. Of these deaths, 11occured from April onwards this year. This is a shocking figure considering that the total number of households in the village is 44 and the population a mere 212. Governmental failure in meeting its welfare obligations to the Adivasis is squarely responsible for these fatalities.

Seesaipanuku is by no means an inaccessible and remote village. The nearest motorable road is not even half a kilometre away. However, all the kondh residents have no access to clean drinking water. They rely on a well which contains water that is clearly contaminated. Even this dries up totally during the summer and then they use water from a nearby narrow stream which is also impure. In the absence of food security, the Adivasis have low nutritional status making them easily succumb to ailments. Most, if not all the residents of Seesaipanuku are malnourished, particularly the children.

Ironically, because of the thickly forested Eastern Ghats, there is no lack of water even in peak summer in that region. However, this does not mean the Adivasis are drinking clean water. For that to happen, the protected drinking water schemes must be in place, but the government has done little in the matter. The Adivasis of Seesaipanuku point out that the best way they can access clean water is by what is known as the ‘gravity scheme’. This involves tapping water from the perennial mountain spring (‘oota neeru’) atop a hill adjacent to the village and carrying the water through a filter bed and pipeline to a tank in the village below. This would ensure that the residents have an adequate supply of safe drinking water.

The Adivasis have made countless appeals to the administration for installation of the ‘gravity scheme’ but to no avail. In fact, this ‘gravity scheme’ is highly appropriate for the Paderu Agency since most villages are located at a height below and not too far from perennial mountain springs. Constancy of flow is assured. Moreover, the scheme is not expensive as it does not require any power to run it. It is by far the easiest and safest way to provide drinking water to most adivasi habitations, including very remote villages. This has been done in some villages in Paderu division (like Kinneralova, a rather remote habitation in Hukumpet mandal). Consequently, the kondhs of that village have an adequate supply of safe drinking water.

The situation in the Utnur division of Adilbad is no better. In village after village, particularly during the summer, the Adivasis complain of lack of clean drinking water.  With hand pumps and wells dried up, people trudging several kms in blistering heat to get some water for drinking and their domestic needs is a common sight.  In the remote villages, the Adivasis have no choice except relying on water sources in the hills that are invariably polluted.

What is very perturbing is the poor governmental response. It would be no exaggeration to say that the rural protected drinking water schemes in the Utnur Agency are in shambles. The mini-water tanks under this scheme function only in a few villages and there too only a trickle is available to residents forcing them to utter distress. In many villages, the motor used to pump water to the tank from the source is in need to repair but is not attended to even where the cost to set it right is very less. In peak summer, the administration at times supplies about 20 litres per family per day. But this is done only to just a few villages by the main roads and none to the interior habitations.

District officials do precious little else to remedy this situation except put out statements of intent and draw up contingency plans. The reality on the ground is that a basic necessity has not been ensured to the poorest of the poor. What is immediately required is a time-bound programme of repairing dysfunctional bores and digging and desilting of wells. As and where required new bores must be sunk.

We cannot underscore sufficiently the need to address this immediately. You may recall that in the year 1998 more than 2,500 persons, most of them Adivasis, died of gastroenteritis in Adilabad district alone. The deaths were the direct result of the lack of potable water. We fear such a tragedy may visit the region again unless there is urgent intervention.

 Health: During the summer and monsoon period,Adivasis are susceptible to fevers, in particular the deadly falciparum malaria which visits with unfailing regularity. This is particularly true of the Seetampeta, Parvathipuram, Paderu, Rampachodavaram, KR Puram, Bhadrachalam and Eturnagaram Agency areas.  Despite concrete suggestions to improve the situation by officials like K Sujatha Rao and experts like KR Venugopal, the government is not giving the matter the serious attention it deserves.

Even though it is a known fact that malaria and gastro-enteritis visit the Agency every year, hardly any preventable steps are taken. Basic measures like anti-malarial spraying, which are to be carried out thrice a year are not being undertaken in a timely and appropriate manner. A combination of low nutritional levels among residents, a fall in employment during summer, lack of access to clean water and a pathetic health infrastructure has therefore had fatal consequences for the Adivasis.

The community health workers (CHWs), the basic health unit in every village are not only badly trained and in most cases not up to the job, they are not paid their monthly honorarium of Rs 400 regularly. In many villages, the CHWs are not even supplied with requisite material like chloroquine tablets and para kits (used to take blood samples for malaria check). Some of the medicines they have are even expiry dated!

The medical and health department consistently tries to play down the extent of the crisis and only resorts to adhoc measures. In fact, in shocking denial, deaths due to malaria are sought to be passed off as due to other diseases like cancer, heart-stroke, old age, TB etc. This irresponsibility often leads to tragic consequences since if the extent and nature of the crisis is not even acknowledged then prevention and cure cannot be taken up successfully.

Sir, we recall that over 5,000 Adivasis died of cerebral malaria in Visakhapatnam Agency in the summer of 1999 and over 2,500 of the same ailment in the summer of 2005. The deaths were because they had no access to clean drinking water, inefficient and insufficient medicare, malnutrition leading to enfeebled resistance to disease, poor protection from mosquito bite, atrocious public hygiene and pathetic health intervention by successive governments. The negligence of the State in its minimal administrative and welfare responsibilities was the proximate cause of these unconscionable deaths.

We fear that unless the government wakes up and responds to the crisis in a comprehensive manner, Adivasis will continue to succumb to preventable and treatable diseases.

As you have stated, development to be truly meaningful, must not be confined to the metropolis but should spread to all parts of the State. We believe that the overarching objective of promoting the well-being of Adivasis would be served if you visit the 5th Schedule regions, observe for yourselves the conditions prevailing there and act upon them. We request you to accord the matter high priority.

Yours truly

S Jeevan Kumar
HRF State president

VS Krishna
HRF State general secretary


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