The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crores on paper, hunger on ground

Shahabad, (Rajasthan), Oct. 30: A blackboard in the collector’s office in Shahabad lists the series of projects earmarked for Sahariya tribals from 1977 to 1999. The details insist that funds allocated for the schemes have moved from lakhs into crores, but its intended beneficiaries have been dying like fleas of poverty, hunger and disease.

At least 20 backward tribals, including 11 children, have died in the last few days though — since 1977 — each successive government in Rajasthan and at the Centre has pumped money into the projects designed to protect the Sahariyas from penury and starvation.

“There is approximately Rs 12-15 crore being pumped into the Sahariya project,” says Haricharan Mehta, sarpanch of Ganeshpura village in Shahabad district, which has the highest concentration of the tribals.

His colleague in Kota speaks up for the government and the projects, brushing aside the swelling number of deaths. “You cannot expect overnight results,” says Bhaskar Sawant, collector of Kota, coolly side-stepping the fact that some of the projects were implemented over 25 years ago.

Refusing to brand the projects a failure, he says: “The government has classified the Sahariyas in the category of extinct tribals. But their population is not coming down. In fact, there has been some improvement.”

The latest project sanctions hostels for students and lift-irrigation sets for farmers, both of which would have greatly improved the lot of the tribals had they been properly implemented. But nothing of the kind has been happening, says an activist of Sankalp, an NGO working in this area for many years.

“None of these schemes try to get the Sahariyas involved. They are foisted from above without taking into consideration the cultural and social context of the Sahariyas,” says Charu. “The lift-irrigation project is a total failure.”

Recounting what happened at Bhilkera Dang, where a pump was installed on the banks of the river running by the settlement, Charu says: “The tribals happily operated it for a while. Then the pump went out of order.”

So, the tribals approached the government to have it repaired. The first time, the government obliged. But when the pump conked off a second time, there was no response.

“We submitted a proposal to the government suggesting that minimum technical knowledge be given to one Sahariya so that he can repair the pump without having to depend on the sarpanch, who is not willing to help either the tribals or the government,” says Charu.

It is seven years since the pump went kaput. Neither the government nor the sarpanch has bothered to repair it. “We do have a problem of technical manpower. Posts of junior engineers have been lying vacant for years,” says collector Sawant in an effort to cover up the lapse.

The hostel scheme has not been much of a hit either. “If a student fails once, he or she is thrown out of the hostel,” says Charu. Nor does the syllabus have much relevance to the children’s lives. “They sit in a class feeling totally alienated. They find it difficult to keep up with the pace of learning.”

There are few Sahariyas who have studied beyond class VII. “In any case, their self-esteem is low and once they fail and get thrown out, there is little incentive for them to return to school,” she adds.

The government is not keen to talk about the projects at a time the tribals are dying. “We would like to ask the government what has become of the model Gandhi gram project they were planning for the Sahariyas,” Charu concludes.

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