The tribal population of Coimbatore is suffering a double brunt during the lockdown as many fail to get relief measures due to the non-renewal of tribal welfare board cards issued by the government, apart from suffering livelihood losses.
The unprecedented situation resulting from the lockdown has cut the connection tribals had with the outside world, thereby forcing them to lose livelihoods. The tribals traditionally collect and sell honey, forest products and artifacts from places near the hills. However, the lack of transportation during the lockdown has restricted them to stay in the mountains without money, essential commodities and even medical support.
Murugadoss of Erumaiparai in Pollachi said, “We’re not getting vegetables, even the ration we are getting is not enough. If the government disburses the relief amount properly, we can survive with that.”
The tribals are struggling to get vegetables and medicines as they need travel passes even to come down to Pollachi.
“There are 36 houses in Erumaiparai and none of them have electricity. We use lanterns here, as a result there is a shortage of oil too. The price of oil is also so high and the government is neither giving us money to buy it nor is transportation available for us to buy at cheaper rates,” Murugadoss stated.
He said, “My younger son had stomach ache and the doctors advised him to take some tablets. However, those tablets aren’t available in Erumaiparai and I need to go to Pollachi to get them. Though I can manage to get a travel pass, I can’t go since I don’t have money.”
The Tamil Nadu government has announced relief measures for traditional tribals. However, there is a problem in the relief measures reaching them, said tribal activists. Most of the families of the tribal hamlets haven’t received the tribal welfare board cards with which they can avail the benefits announced by the government.
“The tribal welfare board cards were issued in 2010. Of all the cards, only 50% of the cards were renewed while the remaining people wait for their turn to renew the cards. The government also didn’t approve applications for fresh cards. Thereby, many tribals are left without any benefits from the government,” said VS Paramasivam, Coimbatore district president of the Tamil Nadu Tribal Welfare Association.
“We have written to the government demanding that they provide us tribal welfare board cards to avail the relief measures. However, the government is not taking any steps,” Paramasivam alleged.
The letter addressed to the Chief Minister said, “The government announced Rs 1,000 under the Tribal Welfare Scheme, but people are worried since the benefits of the scheme are reaching only 30% of the families. If a village has 40 families, only 10 are receiving the benefits under the scheme. In Pollachi taluk especially, when a tahsildar was distributing the relief measures many families were denied the benefits for reasons including lack of tribal welfare board cards or cards not being renewed. Hence we urge the state government to look into the matter and do the needful.”
When asked about the tribal welfare board cards, Murugadoss said, “We asked the officials for the cards but they told us that they can arrange it only if we go to Pollachi. To reach Pollachi, we need public transport which is not available due to the lockdown, and the officials know this too. Yet they’re not taking action.”
“If the government continues to fail to pay heed to our demands, we can only think that their announcement for providing relief measures under the tribal welfare scheme is just an eyewash,” Paramasivam said.