Middlemen flourish as Attappadi infants die of malnutrition

“The Kottathara tribal specialty hospital was set up to provide advanced treatment to the tribal community members.

Published: 28th November 2021 07:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th November 2021 07:02 AM   |  A+A-


For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

PALAKKAD:  Five tribal infants have died this week alone in Attappadi, taking this year’s toll to 12. Records show that crores of rupees have been spent for the uplift of the tribal community in the village.

However, when the minister in charge of their welfare admits that malnutrition is rampant among the tribal community members in Attappadi, one has to wonder how skewed the policies are and how big a chunk of the allotted funds is eaten by the middlemen who double as contractors to implement various projects. 

“The Kottathara tribal specialty hospital was set up to provide advanced treatment to the tribal community members. Yet, we have to travel 35km down the ghat road to the Mannarkkad taluk hospital. Geethu, a tribal woman, underwent a caesarean operation there and the child was taken out on Wednesday. It died on Friday as it could not get proper treatment even there,” said a person close to Geethu and her husband Rajendran.

Three tribal children died on Friday due to various diseases. Agali-based Vivekandanda Medical Mission Hospital’s chief medical officer Dr V  Narayanan, however, said the situation is not as alarming as in 2013. As many as 121 tribal infant lives have been lost since 2013, mostly due to malnutrition of the parents. It has also led to premature abortions and birth of underweight children.  Issues like poverty, alcoholism and lack of employment too are common among the tribals.

Worrying that malnutrition issue exists even now, says minister

Minister for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes K Radhakrishnan said on Saturday that it was worrying that the issue of malnutrition existed even now. In June 2013, when the tribal infant deaths went up alarmingly, then Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh visited Attappadi and announced a Rs 125-crore package.

As part of empowering the community members, tribal women were encouraged to undertake cultivation of traditional crops through neighbourhood groups (NHG) of the Kudumbashree. A total of 506 exclusive NHGs were formed and seeds were distributed under the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) --- a programme under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).

“From 2014 to 2018, under NRLM, we set up community kitchens in 192 oorus and started bridge courses in all settlements. We used to give breakfast to the tribal children who attended the bridge course in the morning. In those four years, Rs 30 crore was spent under NRLM and it was fully from the Centre. Under the MKSP, we spent another Rs 46 crore of which 60% was given by the Centre and 40% by the state government.

Of these funds, Rs 11 crore was disbursed in tranches directly to the tribal communities as part of livelihood activities. However, we were not allowed to complete our mission by the middlemen who did not want the tribal community to be empowered,” said NRLM manager Seema Bhaskar, who later moved to New Delhi. “We also planned to bring tribal communities from Jharkand and other states to showcase the development here.

Under the NRLM, our focus was to provide education to the tribals and ensure them good health. We used to send helpers along with tribal women when they were admitted to hospitals. The NHGs functioning under the panchayat-level samithis used to collect the forest produce and transport them to state-run Oushadhi, in Thrissur, but that also faced resistance. We also encouraged goat rearing and there was adequate demand for it as it was weighed and sold.

Traditional crops like ragi and millets were also grown,” she added. Of the 192 community kitchens, only 110 are functioning now. They are managed by adivasi Kudumbashree units. There were 175 anganwadis, 116 asha workers and 150 tribal promoters. In addition, there were health workers. Yet, the infant deaths continue. “Sincere officials will not be allowed to function in Attappadi.

The lands were taken away from the tribals with the support of politicians and officials. Seema had to leave after the tribals, mostly women, staged a protest in front of the police station in Attappadi demanding the arrest of the killers of Madhu, the tribal youth who was lynched by a local crowd,” said V S Murugan of Vattulukki ooru who contested the 2020 local body polls on a BSP ticket.

Political spat over poverty index rank 
T’Puram: The LDF government’s claim of credit for Kerala’s commendable performance in the first-ever national Multi-dimensional Poverty Index survey by NITI Aayog was challenged by leaders of opposition UDF who pointed out that the baseline report for preparing the index was the fourth national family health survey held in 2015-16. 


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