It is lamentable that even after 60 years of Independence, Vanvasi areas continues to receive step-motherly treatment. What is more disgusting is that over the last three years of UPA regime, the pace of development in Vanvasi areas has been quite slower than that in urban areas.
If one wishes to see the adject poverty prevalent in Vanvasi areas and extreme negligence on the part of the government, one should visit Leh, Doda (J&K), Laholspiti, Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh), Kedarnath, Garhwal, Chamoli (Uttarakhand), Mana, Bomdila, Twang, East and West Siang districts, Parshuram Kund of Teju district, boarder area of Dibang Valley district, Chanlang area, Mon, Tuensang and Phek district of Nagaland, Bagha area of West Champaran, East Champaran, Purnia, Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria, Rohtasgarh and Dobhi area on Grand Trunk Road in Bihar, Senapati district, Okhrul, Tamenlong and few parts of Bishanpur district of Manipur, Kanchanpur area of Tripura and adjoining parts of Mizoram. These are the most backward areas of the country even today. Hilly areas of Assam in the districts of Diphu, Hailakandi and Udalguri are also very backward. Even in West Bengal, boarder areas of Kooch Behar, Baripada, Darjeeling do not have even basic facilities for people.
Andhra Pradesh is considered to be one of the developed states of the country. But here too the villgers in Srikakulam, Vijaynagram, Vishakhapatnam, East Godawari, West Godawari and Khammam are languishing in sheer poverty. Koraput, Kalahandi and Bargarh districts are the earning areas for the Government of Orissa, but it is a fact that the villagers in general and Vanvasis in particular do not get two square meals there. Kalyan Ashram has been working in these areas for many years for the uplift of the Vanvasis.
The UPA government is not serious about the development of Vanvasis. The stand of the UPA government on SEZ and BPL does not provide any hope for Vanvasis.
A high-level lobby is working to uproot the Vanvasis from their land and native villages in this region. The Government of India must formulate a tribal policy, which should be acceptable to the Vanvasi community and the activists of tribal affairs. The Karyakari Mandal of ABVKA has resolved time to time on these issues.
The most neglected aspect in Vanvasi areas is the deteriorating conditions of roads. For example, the National Highway 23 from Ranchi to Gumla is in a very pathetic condition. For the last many years people are fed up with the rough condition of the road. The patients of malaria, meninzitis and delivery cases sometimes die in ambulance itself due to the bad condition of roads. The National Highway 78 from the boarder area of Jharkhand to Bilashpur in Chhattisgarh is merely an eight-feet single-lane road. How can one dare to drive an ambulance for the serious delivery cases on this narrow road?
National Highway 200 from Pthalgaon to Chapa lies in a Vanvasi belt. But because of its very dilapidated condition it turns out to be a uphill task to admit a patient in any hospital of Bilaspur in time. At some places even in those areas railway lines and National Highway 52 cross the rivers through wooden bridges. And these are merely a few instances of the neglect of roads in Vanvasi areas, which adversely affect development.
Most of the norms for Vanvasis and forests were enacted during the British rule. Nation requires a national policy on forests and Vanvasi. We are a democratic country and all citizens have equal rights. Few months ago, the UPA government had made some announcements for Vanvasis but they are insufficient.
(The author is joint secretary general of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and can be contacted at [email protected])