The one-woman army of tribals

Forest beat officer makes a mark by contributing to building 497 toilets in a Kerala village
P G Sudha, forest beat officer  of Kuttampuzha range in Ernakulam
P G Sudha, forest beat officer of Kuttampuzha range in Ernakulam

The life of a beat forest officer is a challenge, as they have to travel through dense forest each day, as part of their routine, braving the adversities of a difficult terrain and climate. At the same time they have to keep a watch on the movement of wild animals and poachers. And if the beat forest officer is a woman, the task becomes more challenging.

Like any other forest beat officer, 49-year-old P G Sudha of Kuttampuzha range in Ernakulam leaves for patrolling in the morning and returns at sunset. But, fighting all odds, the officer, whose husband passed away 27 years ago, played an important role in building 497 toilets in nine tribal colonies, inside the forest, as part of the Open Defecation-Free (ODF) campaign of the central government.

“Life is tough in these tribal colonies, where facilities are minimal as compared to other parts of the area. One has to walk for three hours to reach the tribal settlements,” says Sudha, who won the state award from Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for making the campaign a success, on November 1.

“Though people here can afford a toilet, the colonies had none. That is because they are comfortable with open defecation. Secondly, construction of toilets is not an easy task, since bringing building materials from outside is a herculean task.”

Today, Kerala has been declared the second ODF state in the country and some credit for this goes to Sudha.

She says when the authorities invited tenders for constructing toilets, none of the contractors was ready to take up the task. “It was hardly a year ago when Ernakulam district collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla entrusted the task to Sudha, a tribal from the same colony,” said Xavier T X, Kuttampuzha range officer.

Sudha, who also won the CM’s Best Forest Guard Award in 2006, took the challenge and completed 90 per cent of the task. “It was a daunting task,” she says. “A sum of Rs 15,400 had been set aside for constructing one toilet. But taking one load of rock pieces cost us Rs 3,000-4,000 even though the market price was only Rs 800.”

The workers had to ferry the material on rafts. “But once, the raft capsized and the material was swept away,” she says. “However, the authorities reposed faith in me, and supported me. As a result we were able to complete the work in record time.”

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The New Indian Express