Indigenous Tribal women of Hukumpet Village in Paderu Mandal, Visakhapatnam Agency areas walk miles everyday in search of water
Andhra Pradesh: Thousands of indigenous Tribes inhabiting the Agency areas (Fifth Schedule areas) of Visakhapatnam are lacking basic amenities, such as drinking water, healthcare, housing and educational facilities.
Even as the Tribes cultivate organic food which — of great demand in cosmopolitan cities — they are surviving in conditions of malnourishment.
With both the Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections slated to be held on 11 April in the state, the Agency areas located in the Eastern ghats are resounding with promises of political parties, albeit with a sense of caution as the region has a considerable presence of Maoists.
The 11 mandals in the Agency areas comprises a population of about 6 lakhs, of which over 90% are Tribes.
Authorities claim that about 8 mandals are affected by left-wing extremism. Tribes belonging to communities — Bagatha, Konda Dora, Valmiki, Kotiyas, Kondhu, Gadabas, Nooka Dora, Dulia, Goudu, Mali; and a few Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) — Didoyis Porja, Gadaba, Kondhu and Dulia — live in some over 3,000 small hamlets and villages. The literacy rate in the region is estimated as below 40%.
The region has two Assembly segments, Araku Valley (ST reserved) and Paderu and one Lok Sabha constituency — Araku (ST reserved).
Last year on 23 September, Maoists shot dead Araku MLA Kidari Sarveswara Rao and former MLA S Soma, both of them representing ruling Telugu Desam Party at Livitiput village in Dumbriguda mandal near Araku. As per local media reports, the Naxalites killed the leaders for their alleged involvement in illegal bauxite and metal mining in the region.
“The primary source of living for the tribes in the Agency is through podu cultivation but there was no trace of Forest Rights Act process to distribute land titles to tribes in the region for the last five years ” said Uma Maheshwar, Girijan Sangham leader. On the other side, as Araku valley has become a “favorite destination for tourism, government officials gave a free hand to rich businessmen to open resorts and lodges in the valley, most of them involve illegal Benami land dealings,” says Maheshwar. Girijan Sangham, affiliated to the CPI(M), is fighting court cases against such benami dealings.
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As per Andhra Pradesh land transfer regulation act 1 of 1970 (referred as 1/70), in the state’s scheduled areas, transfer of tribal land to non-tribals is permissible only with accordance to the special status for tribal lands provided by the constitution.
“It is common that rich upper caste people make unofficial contracts with Adivasis and construct lavish resorts on tribal lands in Aruku Valley. While they garner huge profits, little is given to the actual land owners. One can find poor adivasis working as waiters, sanitation workers, cleaners in such hotels or resorts who get a minimum pay of Rs 300 per day as their salaries,” 20-year-old Garavala Deva from Chimidipalli village in Bhimpali panchayat told Newsclick.
Last August, Tribals from a tiny village, Guda in Paderu Mandal, held a protest for over 40 days demanding to stop mining a black metal quarry (black basalt) there. Girijan Sangham leaders told Newsclick that open blasting mining at the quarry was being conducted bypassing the 1/70 act. The mining was conducted by B Rajendra Prasad, brother-in-law of late MLA Sarveswara Rao.
After the death of MLA Rao, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu inducted Rao’s son Kidari Sravan Kumar into his cabinet handing over Tribal welfare and Empowerment portfolio and he has been provided security by OCTOPUS commandos (State Home department’s Organisation for Counter Terrorist Operations formed in 2007). Sravan is TDP’s candidate from Arku Valley constituency.
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Araku Valley Assembly Segment
From Araku Valley Assembly constituency, Sravan Kumar is contesting from TDP ticket. He is slated against Jana Sena — CPI(M) candidate Killo Surendra and YSRCP candidate Setti Palguna. While Surendra belongs to Kotiya tribe, the other two candidates belong to Valmiki tribe.
On his electoral fight, Surendra told Newsclick: “Both TDP and YSRCP are exposed in the Agency areas for their divisive and money politics. The CPI(M) has led numerous movements for the last three decades in the region and has gained people’s support.”
In the last elections, Sarveswara Rao was elected as MLA as YSRCP candidate who shifted his loyalties to TDP within few months after his elevation as MLA. “It is an irony that CM Chandra Babu Naidu adopted Pedda Labudu panchayat in the constituency in 2014 but several hamlets in the panchayat do not even have drinking water supply,” claims Surendra. If elected to power, Surendra says he would fight against the benami land dealings, illegal mining and ensure education, housing, employment, irrigation and health facilities to all the vulnerable tribes.
Pedda Labudu Panchayat
There are 22 small hamlets under Pedda Labudu panchayat in Araku Valley. While there is one community hospital with 100 beds capacity there, the locals say they hardly find doctors (specialists) there.
54-year-old P Venkat is the owner of a small hostel in Araku valley and he has been living there for the past 30 years. He says diseases such as Malaria, Diarrhea are prevalent in the region but there is always a shortage of medicines and doctors. “One has to travel to far away cities — Visakhapatnam or Vizianagaram whenever there is an emergency. It is pitiable that there is no Gynecologist in the hospital,” Venkat told Newsclick.
Araku Lok Sabha Constituency
Araku Lok sabha segment is the second largest segment (area-wise) in the country after Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. The key contestants — former Union Minister Vyricherla Kishore Chandra Deo, who recently resigned from the Congress has filed his nomination as a TDP Candidate. He is pitted against YSRCP’s Goddeti Madhavi, Janasena — CPI(M) candidate Pangi Raja Rao and Congress Candidate and Deo’s daughter V Shruti Devi.