Jul - Sep  2009

Special Adivasi Gram Sabhas organised

AMS could achieve some landmark developments with respect to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act during the last three months.

Under this legislation, "Gram Sabha" is the all powerful village institution. But, the word Gram Sabha has been defined quite vaguely in the Panchayats Act by the Government of Tamilnadu. After lot of discussion and persuasion, a major success was achieved when the Government agreed to redefine the word Gram Sabha and to constitute special adivasi Gram sabhas comprising only of adivasi hamlets. Starting from panchayat level, through negotiations we have brought down the scope of such gram sabhas to a group of adivasi hamlets - even dividing the revenue villages into small manageable units.

The AMS activists have organised all the adivasi hamlets in Gudalur and Pandalur taluks into 29 'Special Adivasi Gram Sabhas' and identified the meeting place for each of these gram sabhas. In order to avoid any possible litigation by other veted interests, AMS also pressed the government to ensure that the elected village panchayats also complete the required procedures. Accordingly, all the elected village panchayats in these two taluks passed official resolutions to constitute these special adivasi gram sabhas.

A section of members participating in a special Gram Sabha meeting

On 17th and 18th of August, AMS organised the first meeting of 17 adivasi gram sabhas in the 4 village panchayats of Cherangode, Nellakota, Srimadurai and Mudumalai. The area teams of AMS undertook the massive task of mobilising all adivasis above the age of 18 years to attend these gram sabha meetings. Even though they had only a week to organise, more than 1500 adult members attended these gram sabha meetings, besides lot of children.

All the 17 gram sabhas, elected Forest Rights committees comprising of 15 adivasis each. Government had deputed one Nodal Officer to oversee the conduct of each of the Gram Sabha meetings. AMS activists explained the important provisions of the Forest Rights Act, the procedures involved in preparing claims and the role of the Forest Rights Committees in the meeting.

AMS activists, K.C.Krishnan and K.T.Subramanian explaining FRA to members

During the next 3 months, claims to access forest resources will be prepared and scrutinised by these Forest Rights Committees. Special training programmes are also being organised to train the members of Forest Rights Committees and the Sub-Divisional Level Committee. Simultaneously, we are requesting the Government to issue requests to the Town panchayats and Gudalur Municipality to pass similar resolutions authorising the formation of special adivasi gram sabhas. On 20th September, a training programme was also organised for the newly elected Forest Rights Committee members in Ayyankolli. It was attended by more than 500 members, indicating the keen interest of the sangam members on this new Act.

As there is a move from the Government's side to split the existing panchayats into smaller units in future, this opportunity of forming special adivasi gram sabhas has a tremendous potential in future. If and when the Government wants to split the panchayats, AMS can argue to consider these adivasi gram sabhas themselves into adivasi panchayats. Such panchayats can be controlled and influenced by the adivasi village sangams and all the development schemes to adivasi villages can pass through these adivasi panchayats.

Gudalur experiences flood situation

On July 15th and 16th, very heavy rains lashed Gudalur valley. Non-stop record rainfall in a single day resulted in flood like situation in many adivasi villages. The situation was especially bad in few low-lying villages in Gudalur area like Thenvayal, Puramanavayal, Molapalli etc.

Rain water entered many of the houses in these villages and damaged the meagre possessions people had. People had to leave their houses and move into make-shift camps in nearby schools. In some villages, landslip occurred and destroyed the walls. One of the houses in May Field village is shown below.

AMS area teams reacted very quickly and assisted the district administration in providing relief to the villages. It was very heartening to see the Government reacting promptly to this crisis situation and cash assistance provided by them to all the affected families was very timely and useful. AMS extended medical and other material support to those affected in adivasi villages through its health team and village volunteers. Blankets, mats etc. were provided to the Gudalur villages that needed them. For the first two days, food materials were also provided.

In Erumadu, Pattavayal and Gudalur, roofing materials like sheets were given to families whose houses were damaged in the heavy rain. We are grateful to Tzedakah Trust, Mysore (founded by The Green Hotel, Mysore and the Charities Advisory Trust, UK) for promising immediate financial support for relief operations. Affected families have moved back to their villages and things are back to normal. However, this event has highlighted the poor status of housing in adivasi villages. For Thenvayal village, AMS is campaigning with the administration to identify suitable land and to relocate the village to a safer place.

Another Handmade Soap making unit started

During the last two years, the Adivasi Soap unit in Gudalur has stabilised well and has perfected the system of making hand made soaps, besides keeping track of the sales and stock. There is a very good demand for this soap both locally and internationally. So, as a next step, another unit has been started in Mangara village of Erumadu. Three rounds of training was conducted in Gudalur for the Kattunaicken women of Mangara and they made soaps under the supervision of Subramani, the young Paniya boy managing the Gudalur soap unit.

Then, Subramani went to Mangara village with all the raw materials required. As the senior members of the Erumadu Area team were busy with various activities, the younger team took charge of kick-starting the soap unit in Mangara. The first lot of 50 soaps was successfully made in the village. Due to continuous rains, the event had to be postponed twice, but finally when the soaps were made, the women and the Erumadu team is quite happy.

Now, these soaps are being sold through the Erumadu centre for all the other sangam members. As soon as the monsoon is over and when the new area centre building construction is completed, the Mangara soap unit will manufacture these hand made soaps in full swing. The main objective of this unit is to start an economic enterprise at the village level and importantly, to reduce the costs incurred by each adivasi family on buying soaps made by big corporates. This, we are hoping, will help us spread the message of Just Change in our villages.

Toilet Constructed in Kuthalkolli Paniya village

During the last two decades, AMS has established institutions to address the health and education issues confronting the adivasi community in a systematic way. For the next few years, Housing, Sanitation & Drinking Water have been identified as the most important areas to concentrate on. AMS has been engaging the Government intensively this year and is trying to influence its policies in favour of adivasis.

As an important step in this direction, AMS decided to build toilets in Kuthalkolli village near Thorapalli. Almost for two years, this village and the Gudalur Area team of AMS have been trying to push the Panchayat to build toilet for the village, as there is nearly nowhere to go for the paniyas of this village. The adivasi masons and construction workers trained by Anu and Krishna took up the responsibility for building it.

Land was allocated by the village and the sangam extended complete support needed. All the construction materials were procured by this team and assisted by the Gudalur area team. The entire construction - from foundation to finishing and plumbing - was done by this adivasi team itself.

The final tally of the expenditure is about Rs.75500, almost bang on target as our budget was Rs.75000. The broad break-up of the expenditure heads are like this:
Description of Expenditure Amount (Rs.)
Stone, Sand, Cement etc. 20000
Soil cement blocks, bricks 16500
Wages for Construction 26000
Plumbing materials, doors, windows, closets etc.

We thankfully acknowledge the financial support of Rs.20000 by Mr.Padmanabhan for this construction, who lives nearby.

Now, AMS is planning to ask the Panchayat to provide water supply and electricity connection to the toilet. Adivasis need not be just beneficiaries of government programmes, we can effectively deliver important services and help government establish infrastructure like toilets and houses in our villages. We hope to use Kuthalkolli toilets as a model to press our case to the Government.

Srimadurai Area Centre inaugurated

On 15th September 2009, the newly constructed Area Centre in Srimadurai was inaugurated. With numerous activities being carried out through the Area Centres, the current building has become quite inadequate. So, we are focusing on improving the infrastructure facilities that can be utilised by all the Sangam members. Again, construction of this building also was entirely done by the trained adivasi masons - mostly from Ponnani area. Amidst their heavy schedules due to the Forest Rights activities, the Srimadurai area teamdid a tremendous job in getting the construction work completed. They were supported well by K.T.Subramanian and Chandran.

The inauguration was attended by more than 400 people and a big public event was organised. The RDO and other government officials of Gudalur attended the public meeting and fulfilled one of the important demands of AMS - To issue Community Certificates to adivasi sangam members at the village level itself. Instead of individuals applying for these certificates from the government, AMS has been pressing the officials to organise camps at the villages, so that all the members can access this service without incurring costs.

As a first step, this camp was organised in Srimadurai along with the inauguration function. About 240 adivasis got their community certificates that day and AMS hopes to organise more such camps in all the other villages as well. List of about 2000 people who need community certificates from over 200 villages has already been prepared. Currently, AMS is working with the administration to complete this process in all the other villages as well.

Regular updates about our other activities are available in the newsletters of Ashwini and Just Change .

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