THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the deep reaches of the capital, under the Agastyavanam Biological Park, all sandwiched by forests lie 27 tribal settlements. Over 800 families live here. For the close to a thousand people living here, life just passes by as they indulge in farming. Turmeric, pepper and sometimes rubber figure as their ‘crops’, and occasionally they undertake jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). As they went to the polls on Tuesday, it is a development that figured as a decisive element. Road accessibility, drinking water and proper houses figure as their primary needs.
At the Samskarikanilayam at Podiyam, as the evening closed in, 75 per cent of votes had been cast. People kept arriving, although in small numbers, some even traversing a few kilometres from the hills. As many as eight settlements fall under this relatively new polling booth, which has aided a lot many of the tribals to cast their votes. For the rest of the settlements, the Forest Office at Kottoor makes up for the polling booth.
“Earlier, they all had to venture till the forest office which is a few kilometres off Podiyam. This was turned into a polling booth in 2014. Now, over 440 voters needn’t traverse all this distance just to cast the vote,” said Sreedevi Suresh, former ward member. The approach to Podiyam is only for light motor vehicles. Jeep makes up for the transport up till Valippara, from where buses are available. “If the bridge is widened, we can ensure bus service up till here,” she said.
Transportation is one of the main issues grappling the community, said Shantha who arrived with her 75-year-old mother Lalitha to cast the vote. “This is the second time that I am casting my vote. Although we don’t receive any benefits for voting, we make it a point to vote every time. Lack of transportation facilities is a major issue. We need to rely on jeeps and at times after six, there won’t be any jeeps available. Our children also face difficulties to reach their school and sometimes they have to walk to their schools,” she said.
The community never misses out on voting. “Voting is our right. So I never miss out on having my say. We urgently need development. Accessibility is a major cause of concern as we don’t have proper roads. No buses come up till here,” said Makesh Kani, who resides at the settlement Plavila.
“Of late, we are also facing acute drinking water issues, just like others. With the onset of summer, there is a water shortage. It is normally wells that we depend on, but with the water level dipping, other sources such as natural springs have to be relied on,” Sreedevi said.