PADERU (VISAKHAPATNAM DT) : It looks like there is no end to the plight of tribals in Agency areas of the district. They are being fleeced, cheated and robbed almost in every sphere of their lives.
Here is a classic example of how the ‘shahukars’ or the money-lenders loot the tribals with the banned instruments of measuring foodgrains. The ‘shahukars’ shortchange the tribals as the latter barter their foodgrains for money. Old means of measurements like ‘addedu’ and ‘kunchedu’ were banned for long but they never cease to go into oblivion in the tribal tracts of this district.
The money-lenders charge high interest rates and realise them in terms of foodgrains, fleecing the tribals heavily in the process. Officials of the Legal Metrology Department and ITDA seems to be little bothered about the unfair practices being employed by the ‘shahukars’.
According to the available statistics, there are about 86,458 ‘kamatas’ (farming lands measuring 1.59 acres) spread across 11 Agency mandals that fall under the jursidiction of ITDA, Paderu.
The tribals cultivate ‘rajma’, ‘turmeric’, ‘valiselu’, ‘pippallul, ‘ragi’, ‘samalu’, ‘maize’, ‘chiru kandulu’, ‘timedalu’, ‘srirama pikkalu’ and ‘siram kandulu’ apart from many other crops. They sell their yields to the middlemen in archaic fashion with the containers called ‘kunchalu’, a prcatice has been banned by the government a long time ago.
The tribals borrow money between June and September every year on the condition that they should return the amount along with interest in kind. The half-yearly interest charged on `1,000 is a whopping `500 to `650. The crops are usually harvested in n December/January and ‘shahukars’ return around that time to claim their pound of flesh.
Addedu and Kunchedu
In olden days, the people used to measure foodgrains in the units of ‘pavu’ (250 g), ‘artha seru’ (500 g) ‘seru’ (1000 g), ‘addedu’ (2 kg) and ‘kunchedu (4 kg). There is another unit called ‘kuncham’ which is an equivalent of 4.5 kg, 5 kg, 5.5 kg and 6 kg depending on the area where it is applied.
In Visakhapatnam Agency, ‘kuncham’ is an equivalent of e 6 kg. However, at the time of realising their debts in terms of foodgrains, the ‘shahukars’ resort to unfair means of measurements by using the ‘kunchams’ which actually hold 6.75 kg of foodgrains.
Due to lack of knowledge about the market prices, the tribals are falling prey to the middlemen who lend less money and take back foodgrains worth more than the principal amount and the interest put together.
If, a farmer takes `10,000, he has to pay `15,000 worth of yield to the middlemen. According to reports from various tribal hamlets, about 85 per cent of the yield is being adjusted against the loans.
Money-lenders in tribal areas have to obtain the permission of the district collector. However, this rule is observed more in breach than in practice.
“The middlemen, mostly hailing from Narsipatnam area, are taking our crops. The practice has been going on for ages. Most of the tribals are not aware of the government weights and measures. The main problem is that there is no assistance to the tribals from the banks as most of them neither have bank accounts nor know how to operate them. In fact, the bankers are not coming to open their branches in Agency areas though the government is bringing pressure on them,” a tribal farmer belonging to Bharam village, Singarbha Panchayat of G.Madugula mandal said.
Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU) general secretary Ajay Kumar has demanded that the government set up a Legal Metrology Department in Paderu in view of the alarming levels of cheating by the ‘shahukars’.
He wanted the government to provide financial assistance to tribal farmers to bail them out of the clutches of private money-lenders. If, the bank provide financial assistance to the tribal farmers, it will put a check on the private money-lenders.
Ajay Kumar said that the APVVU would conduct a massive ‘Satyagraha’ before the GVMC administrastive building on October 2 demanding that the government solve the problems of tribals. Former IAS officers EAS Sarma and Chaya Ratan would take part in the agitation, he disclosed.
According to the Legal and Metrology Department, the old measurements have been banned and any trader in any market should use the weights and balances issued by the department.
The department in the district is headed by one assistant controller, five district inspectors (DI) and three inspectors, mostly working in the plain areas.
Three DIs are working in Visakhapatnam city, Gajuwaka and Anakapalle while one is exclusively posted at HPCL and the other is allotted for IOCL and BPCL.
The three inspectors are working only in the city limits. The Anakapalle DI is looking after the entire district including the Agency areas.
“The department does not have its office at Paderu. The inspectors posted at Narsipatnam and Anakapalle are looking after the Agency mandals. The post of inspector at Narsipatnam is lying vacant for the past two years and presently the inspector at Gajuwaka is its incharge. There are several problems shortage of staff and vehicles. However, the department is organising raids at the ‘shandys’ in Agency areas,” said district Inspector of Legal Metrology Department KT Ravi Kumar.