Wednesday, July 29, 1998

50 years of solitude -- Development shuns AP tribals

July 29, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 28: Uke Venkaiah was 30 years old when India became free. And as the country looks back in its golden jubilee with pride over the development it has achieved, life for him has remained what it was 50 years ago. Venkaiah belongs to the Kondareddy tribe, the most primitive tribal group in Andhra Pradesh. The 50 years of independence have not brought about any change in the lifestyles of this hill-habitant tribal group which is facing extinction.
The population of Kondareddys, inhabiting the inaccessible forest areas of Khammam, East and West Godavari, and Visakhapatnam districts, is fast dwindling, causing concern to anthropologists. According to the latest census, there are just one hundred thousand Kondareddys in Andhra Pradesh and a little over half of them live in Khammam district. The mortality rate in this tribe is the highest among the three major tribal groups in the state the other two being Koyas and Lambadas.
``I hear from the radio that the country has progressed a lot. Iwonder whether it is true when I see my habitation. There has been no development in the last 50 years. There is no electricity and no roads. The same old forest tracts and the same old health problems. Nothing has changed for us,'' says Venkaiah, as an aeroplane flies past the hills surrounding his Uppanapalle hamlet in Chintoor mandal.
Unlike many others, Venkaiah is fortunate to be able to listen to the radio as his hamlet boasts of one. A radio set was brought by a tribal elder a few years ago. But most of the time it remains silent for want of batteries, which are available only in the nearest non-tribal village, a five-hour walk away.
A visit to Kondareddy or Koya hamlets like Chintagandi, Karamanakonda, Gabbilalagondi and Elugalagondi in Khammam district uncovers their miserable health condition. More than 80 per cent of the Kondareddys living in 64 hamlets are malnourished. Women and children are the worst affected. Almost all the children below five years have pot bellies indicatingmalnutrition. Skin ailments, malarial fevers, and diarrhoea are quite common. Doctors rarely visit the habitations.
There are many habitations that the project officers (POs) of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), which is supposed to look after the welfare of tribals, have never visited. Even Uppanapalle, which is just 40 km from the ITDA headquarters at Bhadrachalam, has not seen the face of a PO for six years. The tribal school in the village does not run regularly.
Barefoot and wearing loin cloths, the Kondareddys walk down the hills for about half-a-day to reach the nearest fair price shop to get their monthly ration, 10 to 15 kg of cheap quality rice supplied by the State Government. Tribals have been demanding that the fair price shops be located in the nearest tribal hamlet instead of villages in the plain areas.
The ITDA has opened schools in some tribal hamlets, but many of them remain closed for want of teachers. All the students sit on the floor in one classroom. The residentialschools have no electricity and the surroundings are unhygienic. The tribal children may not regularly get nutritious food as the wardens concerned have to walk for miles together to fetch fresh vegetables and groceries. Children are fed some low-quality rice and watery dal.
In one such residential school at Vidyanagar, the Kondareddy children rehabilitated from Vegisagandi and Baibokka look shabby. They have not had a bath for almost a week. When asked, the warden said he had to receive clothes from ITDA and new clothes ``will be supplied soon''.
In the absence of proper coordination among government departments, the ITDA could achieve little success in its mission to rehabilitate this most primitive tribal group that does not like to live on plains. Certain schemes proposed by ITDA for the welfare of Kondareddys are yet to take off.
Many Kondareddys lost their livelihood after the forest department tightened its vigil over felling of bamboo trees. Left with no other go, this tribe has beenresorting to ``podu'' (shifting cultivation) by levelling huge forest tracts, in the process damaging forests and sealing their future.

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Oldest east coast port in ruins due to years of neglect

Published in The Indian Express on Wednesday, July 15, 1998
By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, July 14: There are abandoned sheds, rusted machinery, a few
condemned boats, sandcast approach channel, cattle grazing the outgrown
greenery, and human waste littered all around. But, the Andhra Pradesh
State government likes to call it the Machilipatnam seaport and fishing
harbour.After M V Dalakhi of Malta left the port on June 22, 1989, the
Machilipatnam port has not seen any ship anchoring in its area. While the
government and the trade unions are battling out the issue of
privatisation, the port with a vast hinterland continues to be deserted.
The labour has migrated to other ports.
Machilipatnam is one of the two intermediate ports in the state. It's
maritime history dates back to the first century BC when it was an outlet
to many nations. It developed by leaps and bounds under various rulers
through the centuries. Its decline began after India became independent.
For all practical purposes, the once glorious Machilipatnam port is dead.
And the government is just to write the requiem byofficially declaring it
as closed.
The cash-strapped State Government only added to the apprehension of the
people of Machilipatnam that their port, the oldest on the east coast,
will be closed down, when it recently shifted the machinery, in working
condition, to the Kakinada port.
The staff strength at the port has been reduced over the years. As many as
15 cargo boats remain unused. A grab dredger with four mud punts is lying
rusted at the entrance of the port channel. The signal station with VHF
facilities has gone dead. The transit lights for the approach channel have
all disappeared.
The port officer, who is common for Machilipatnama and Kakinada, could not
be contacted as he stays in Kakinada, where shipping activity is in
"What remains today is scrap. A few years ago much of the equipment was in
working condition. The private consultancy firm, appointed in 1992 to
study the working of the port, listed many facilities as existing and
suggested some more. But, now the government hasto begin from scratch,"
says a leader of the Machilipatnam Port Employees' Union.
Even the four barges of the private sector remain unused. Estimated to
cost Rs 2 crore, the barges were to sail in January this year. Abandoned
midway, they are rusting in the open.
MAIN PROBLEM: The main problem facing the port is the unstable nature of
the sand bar which keeps shifting from south to north, and back, in a
cyclic manner. The approach channel keeps shifting and at times the water
is only about two feet deep at low tide over the bar.
This drift estimated at about 0.6 million cubic metres with its dominant
direction to the north, results in the shifting of the channel and
reduction of water depth over the bar.
Boats are then forced to cross during the high tide, thereby imposing
restrictions on the traffic. Further, heavy breakers exist in the approach
channel making it dangerous for boats to negotiate the bar.
Thanks to neglect from all quarters, the traffic fell from 79,269 tonnes
in 1985-86 tojust 6,588 tonnes in 1989-90. And since then, there has been
no traffic at all. The revenue last year was just Rs 2 lakh.
"Almost a million tonnes of cargo can be handled. It may even go up to 1.5
million tonnes. The APSEB is willing to get its coal supplies through the
Machilipatnam port. The conversion of the Guntur-Guntakal metre gauge into
broad gauge means a direct access to the west coast, boosting business,"
feels Venkatasubbaiah, who has studied the port in detail.
A report by Howe (India) Limited, a Delhi-based consultancy firm, pointed
out that the approach channel was trying to bypass the guide bunds. The
bank on the south side was being eroded, while that on the northern side
was getting silted up. It suggested that urgent action should be taken to
prevent the by-passing of the river. Protection works and dredging are
necessary. Six years have passed since the report was submitted. The
"urgency" is yet to be recognised.
The report estimated the total cost of development of the port at Rs12.25
crore in 1992. But, it has escalated to Rs 30 crore now.