MM HILLS (Chamarajanagar district): Children in this region enjoy a hot meal at school every afternoon, but they may soon go hungry.
Though the schools have adequate rations, they have no water for cooking.
The practice in this tribal area is to serve the meal even during the summer holidays. In one school, the lone teacher is trying to filter muddy water and cook for about 30 children.
With no rain, the mid-day meal scheme is about to hit a dead end in this hilly region on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. The only hope is that the government will send up water in tankers, or the rain gods will take mercy on the poor children.
An open well at Muduganane, about 30 feet deep, is almost dry; it yields only six to eight pots of water a day. Veerappa, the teacher, decants the water for cooking.
“If the well goes completely dry, I am afraid the children will go hungry,” he told Express. He treks 7 km to reach the school from his house. “I bring foodgrains on a donkey once a month. I carry vegetables by hand. But the water crisis has rendered us helpless,” he said.
Since this is a protected forest area, the law forbids borewells, roads, and even power connections. A dozen solar lights in and around the village provide the only illumination at night.
Chikka Madu, who lives there, says women walk 6 km to fetch two pots of water daily. Villagers trek deep into the forest to a small stream to bathe once in 10 days.
The situation is no different in Doddanne, Kokabare, Thokere and and other villages scattered inside the forest.
A solar-powered pump donated by an NGO helps people get some water in Tuslikere and Indiganatha. Kumbadiki and Doddane have no roads. Teachers stay back at schools here as otherwise they have to trek 7 to 10 km to reach M M Hills. Raghavendra, head master of the Indiginatha Government School, fears the situation will only worsen if pre-monsoon rains fail.
The region has other woes as well. Teachers are unhappy they are paid no allowance for serving in remote hilly schools. Most schools have toilets but teachers and students defecate in the open as water is in short supply.
Madanna, of the Soliga tribe, says schoolchildren are hit hard with no mid-day meal as their parents are agricultural labourers working in distant places.
Many schools had gained in strength in the lower and higher primary classes after the mid-day meal scheme was introduced.
Additional Deputy Commissioner Bharathi said the district administration would do its best to help the schools feed the children. “The stringent Forest Act stops us from laying roads, drilling borewells, and giving tap water,” she said.