What water for the primitive Bonda tribe in one of the poorest districts in India?

If riverine south India is reeling under the  harshest drinking water scarcity, what must it be like for the Bonda tribe of Malkangiri in Odisha?

Published: 03rd May 2017 02:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th May 2017 09:20 PM   |  A+A-

A Bonda village

Express News Service

BADBEL/DUMRIPADA:The 75 km drive from Malkangiri to Khairput takes one and a half hours and is comfortable, thanks to the new roads laid under the Left-Wing Extremism Scheme. Beyond Khairput, reality shows up. The 20 km drive to Mudulipda, on a horrible road, is backbreaking and takes another hour and a half. We trek the next 5 km to our destination.
Welcome to Bonda Hills, home to the Bondo Poraja or Bonda, a primitive tribal group (PTG) remarkable for its unique way of life. Come summer, members of the tribe wander around the forested hills for hours every morning, seeking water.

It was in 1976 that the first micro project of Odisha, the Bonda Development Agency, was established at Mudulipada. But there is no sight of any basic amenities in the habitations located in these high hills. Water supply is unheard of. The 5 km walk through the forest leads us to Badbel, a village under Andrahal gram panchayat, where about 135 Bonda families live. This village does not have a single tube well, forget piped water supply. The only option for the Bonda women is to look for a chuan and draw water. It takes hours every day but that is the only way. When found, the water is often contaminated.

Members of the tribe washing clothes with whatever water they can find  

Two piped water projects were undertaken by the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Project and Rural Water and Sanitation Scheme to solve the drinking water crisis here but both have been left incomplete. With safe water remaining a far cry, diarhhoea is common. A 40-year-old woman Gurubari Badnayak died after consuming contaminated water from a chuah last year. Seven km from Badbel is Dumripada, another village under the Andrahal panchyat. For the population of 600, the quest for drinking water is harsh. Here too the piped water supply project has remained incomplete and two out of the three tube-wells have become defunct. At the lone tubewell available, women queue up for hours or go looking for a chuan.

“The drinking water crisis has been the worst this summer,” says Budai Muduli. His fellow villager Buda Sisa alleges that no people’s representative has ever visited the village. Last year, four people, including two kids, Soma Muduli and Mangla Sisa, died due to water-borne diseases in Dumripada.
The RWSS Department admits that drinking water supply to the area has been a challenge. “The piped water project in Dumripada with an estimated cost of `27 lakh started in 2012-13 but couldn’t be completed due to lack of adequate funds. Fresh tenders for the project with a revised estimate of about `32 lakh would be floated once government approves the same,” an officer said. The area is malaria-endemic. The only primary health centre (PHC) at Mudulipada tested 290 blood samples between April 1-22. As many as 100 tested positive.

A shy tribe in the hills

The Bonda, or Bondo Poraja, are one of the 13 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) of Odisha. They are one of the most primitive tribes of India.
These highlanders live mostly in the Khairput and Mudulipada blocks of Malkangiri district. A part of the Kondakamberu range of the Eastern Ghats is named after them as the Bonda hills (3000 above sea level).
The Bonda population, according to the 2011 Census, stands at 12,231 with a sex ratio of 1040. Extremely shy, the Bondas’ interface with the rest of the world takes place mostly during the weekly markets in the lowlands.

The Bondas are primarily agriculturists and grow cereals, pulses and oilseeds. They grow vegetables in their kitchen gardens.The literacy rate of the Bondas is low. There is one primary health centre at Mudulipada and it runs on a PPP mode. It has an AYUSH doctor. Diarhhoea and malaria are endemic in the region.
Dambaru Sisa, a BJD leader, was the first MLA from the Bonda tribe. He wa elected in 2014 from the Chitrakonda Assembly segment. He also is their first post-graduate.

Trapped in time

The Bonda are an ancient tribe of people who live in isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district of Odisha.


The Bonda are an Austro-Asiatic tribe that settled in Odisha thousands of years ago. They speak an unfamiliar tongue and their customs have changed little throughout their history.

Upper & Lower

The Bonda are divided into upper and lower Bonda according to the altitude at which they live. It is the upper Bonda who have had almost no connection to the outside world.

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