BHADRACHALAM:It’s fear worse confounded. The fear of submergence haunts the tribals of Pochavaram village, the boating point in the scenic Papi Hills of Eastern Ghats in Khammam district, big time. The tribal village with less than 400 people will be wiped out from the globe shortly along with more than 130 other villages following the construction of Polavaram project. Not only villages, but the Kondareddy tribals who inhabit these villages will be displaced.
The construction of Polavaram project will sound a death knell for the Kondareddy tribe which is on the verge of extinction. Nearly 10,000 Kondareddy tribals who are recognised as primitive tribal group (PTG) have been living on hill-top villages away from the mainstream society. “We know only fishing in the river and gather forest produce for a living. There is no other place where we can survive,” rues Kadala Latchi Reddy of Tekupalli, summing up the angst of Kondareddy tribes residing in the interiors of Papi Hills. If the government constructs the Polavaram project as per the present design, all Kondareddy hamlets will be submerged as the river flows at 42 ft level throughout the year. The flow is likely to go up further during the rainy season.
The tribals, who earn their livelihood through ‘Podu’ cultivation and by making bamboo products, believe in community living. They work in groups and share the earnings together. Latchi Reddy works in his three-acre farm land along with landless tribals Valla Sitapu Reddy and Pedala Mohan Reddy. The trio shares the crop equally. Besides, they also collect forest produce like honey, acacia gum and goose berries and sell them at the local shandies once in a week.
The Kondareddys, who live on the hills abutting either bank of river Godavari, have unique traditions and culture.
“Unlike the other tribal groups, the Kondareddys are deeply attached to the forest and have problems in integrating with the developed society,” explains Mutyalu Reddy, a Kondareddy and vice-sarpanch of Pochavaram. Apprehensive about losing their rights over minor forest produce like honey, fruits and sticks from trees which is their only source of livelihood, they turned down the offer of land and pucca houses as part of the rehabilitation programmes several times in the past.
In fact, Pochavaram is the only success story for the government which has turned the sleepy village into a tourist spot. Located at about 80 km from Bhadrachalam, Pochavaram is the last village with accessibility to road and of course, civilisation.
“The Kondareddys believe in community living which is not possible in plain areas where people work individually and deal with monitory benefits. Even if the government pays them good compensation, the entire civilisation of Kondayreddys will be lost as their lifestyle will undergo a seachange after they join the plain areas,” says Vattam Narayana Dora, convener of the Struggle Committee against Polavaram Project.
Though both the Central and Andhra Pradesh governments claim to be offering a good rehabilitation package, Mutyalu Naidu fears that a majority of the Kondareddy tribes will not accept it. “Though we belong to the same community, those living in the deep forest do not even trust us as we have mingled with other communities from the plains. Except for a small group of us, a majority of the community members are illiterates. They would move further deep into the jungles as it is a question of their survival. But who is concerned about them as long as the hamlets are vacated,” he says.
TRIBALS AT THE CROSSROADS
- Nearly 10,000 Kondareddy primitive tribal group members inhabit hill-top villages along Godavari banks away from the mainstream
- The tribals earn their livelihood through Podu cultivation, believe in community living; work in groups and share the spoils together
- Kondareddy tribes not willing to accept rehabilitation package as they do not want to live in main land areas
TO BE WIPED OUT
- Pochavaram village with less than 400 people thanks to Polavaram
- Over 130 other villages will go off the map following project construction