NEW DELHI: A group of civil society organisations, activists, researchers and experts working with tribals and forest-dwelling communities have written to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) about the health and livelihoods crisis emerging in tribal areas during the second wave of the COVID pandemic.
"Covid-19 spread which was sparse during the first wave has increased its severity and spread this year compounded with poor or non-existent health service," the signatories have said.
As many as 21 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) have reported Covid infections so far.
On the aspect of livelihoods, the group said, "Minor Forest Produce collection, transport and sales are affected by the lockdown. State procurement and special measures to address livelihood and food security are largely absent or ineffective."
The group had earlier submitted a report to MoTA in May 2020 highlighting the problems that adivasis and other forest dwellers were facing in the first Covid wave and had demanded urgent action by the ministry including the creation of a task force to respond rapidly to the situation.
This time the group has highlighted the spread of Covid into the tribal areas at an alarming rate and has recommended setting up a Covid Response Cell in MoTA to collect data on the pandemic's spread, communication of protocols to be followed for prevention and transmission, rapid testing and special vaccination drives. They also suggested special monitoring of the health care structure and services.
"In order to secure livelihood, there should be an immediate removal of all restrictions on the tribals and forest-dwelling communities from entering into forests of any kind, to exercise all rights approved by their respective Gram Sabha with due Covid precautions, support for transport of forest produce, their procurement and marketing by the State Governments which is necessary to prevent distress sale," they suggested.
Further, enough must be done to organise the delivery of essential materials as food grains, vegetables, medicines, masks, and sanitizers while ensuring effective coverage with all the Social Security Schemes such as MGNREGA.
The group also suggested activating State Tribal Welfare Departments to ensure the effective implementation of the above recommendation. They have recommended State Tribal Welfare Departments and MoTA should work together closely and create a mechanism to monitor the situation, status of services and response to the emergencies.