The threat of wild elephants looms
The fear of being trampled anytime by the elephants always lurks in the mind of 60-year-old Shantha Karikan and her family members, who are from the Paniya tribal community, living inside a shed in the Aralam farm.
Just a few meters away from the shed are the skeletal remains of her house, which she started to construct a few years back using the fund of ₹60,000 provided for tribals under the Tribal Rehabilitation and Mission.
But the work stopped as the authorities failed to issue the rest of the funds. In spite of knocking on every door, her pleas fell on deaf ears.
She is not the only tribal awaiting funds to continue the construction work in block 9 of the Aralam farm. Many others like her who allegedly refused to hand over the construction of the houses to contractors, are facing a similar ordeal and continuing to stay either in sheds or in dilapidated houses constructed by the Nirmithi Kendra.
Ms. Shantha is one among the few Paniya community families, who moved from Pookund colony, adjoining the Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, to settle in Aralam farm, during the tribal agitation back in 2004-05.
"We have received patta after a lot of struggle. But there are no basic amenities and in the absence of a proper house constant threat of elephants have made life difficult," she lamented. The elephants break the walls to cross over and after dusk they fear for their lives, she said.
"Every time we meet the promoters, TRDM site manager and officials in the tribal department to pass funds, we feel neglected. They say that the money has to be sanctioned," she rues.
Another tribal PP Krishnan, who is a constructor, has not received a single rupee from the department and now incurs ₹4 lakh debt after he started construction of his house here. He refused to give the construction of a house to contractors.
As a result, he is yet to receive an amount, even the promised ₹6 lakh from the authorities despite being included in the LIFE project.
Many tribal families are refusing to give the work to contractors. Water is seeping through the roof of the houses and are damaged. But the tribals have little choice but to suffer and live inside the house, he said.
"They use poor quality material to make a small house, which they claim to be about 650 sq ft, while at the same cost we can purchase better quality of material to make a bigger house, " he explained.
Initially the tribals were given ₹3.5 lakh and under the LIFE project ₹6 lakh has been issued.
Interestingly those who agreed to give the construction to the contractors were given the full amount, while people like him are yet to receive any money or given a small portion of the fund, he claimed.
"We can only assume that the officials are hand in glove with these contractors and swindling the money provided for the welfare of tribals," he alleged.
Likewise Nirmala Narayanan, who is constructing her own house since 2016 is yet to receive a complete ₹3.5 lakh issued by the government. They only paid ₹2.10 lakh and they deny the rest of the money citing various reasons.
"I have taken a bank loan and some money from Kudumbashree. I have to pay back ₹10000 every month," she laments. If they issue the amount they can finish the work of the house, she added. Ms. Narayanan and her family were staying in sheds for so long, despite the threat of elephants, which has already killed several people here.
The house of Rajamma, which was constructed recently by the contractor, is already seeping. She is yet to occupy the house and it was closed down. Many others too alleged similar situations in the farm.
Scheduled Tribes Development Department, project officer S Santhosh Kumar reiterated that all applications are being cleared. The government has allowed ₹75 lakh recently.
However, the various tribal association demanded a proper inquiry. Sreeram Koyyo, president,Adivasi Dalit Munnetsamithi demanded that there is large corruption and the money allotted to the tribal welfare is being diverted and swindled. The house was promised for those who were resettled. But even after so many years, the tribals are forced to stay in sheds.
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