The Eastern and Western Ghats are two mountain ranges in Southern India, averaging from 3000 to 5000 feet. While the Western Ghats run parallel to the coast of the Arabian Sea, the Eastern Ghats run roughly parallel to the Bay of Bengal. Of the total geographical area of Andhra Pradesh, 27.07% of it is covered by the Eastern Ghats and more than two thirds of the forests in Andhra Pradesh are in the Eastern Ghats range of hills.
The longest stretch of contiguous forest in the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh can be found in the four districts of the Northern Coastal area. These mountains act as the rice bowl of the state. They are rich in natural resources, having a large biodiversity of flora, fauna, mineral wealth, river systems, and proximity to the coastline. They have culturally diverse tribal groups that exhibit strong social cohesion and display unique knowledge systems.
Despite the cultural and ecological significance of the region, it has faced an economic and political invasion ever since the British administration. Short sighted laws and policies, juxtaposed with negligent governance, have ensured that development interventions were scanty and irresponsible. Despite the constitutional safeguards and positive discrimination afforded to tribals, there has been little positive impact on the communities or the environment. Infrastructure, education, health, land restoration, land development, livelihoods, traditional knowledge systems – all have suffered from complete neglect.
When Samata started working as a community based group in 1987, it effectively mobilized the tribal communities into asserting their constitutional and traditional rights and encouraged them to demand basic amenities and support from government programmes. This achieved a unique balance of fighting the government on the issue of the protection of tribal lands and rights, whilst concurrently fostering a relationship with the government and building a rapport so as to encourage government assistance to tribal people. Therefore, Samata played a catalytic role in ensuring government investments reached the tribal villages and were effectively implemented.
Impacts of Government Policies on Sustenance of Tribal People in the Eastern Ghats
The Constitution of India provides special protection to the adivasi/tribal/indigenous people, who constitute more than 8 percent of the total population of India and who inhabit the remaining vestiges of forests in the country. The Fifth Schedule is one such constitutional safeguard that deals with administration and control of Scheduled Areas (areas with predominantly tribal population) in nine states. Nine districts in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which includes the district of Visakhapatnam too falls under the Fifth Schedule. Nearly half a million tribal people from various communities, including the Vulnerable Tribal Groups (VTGs), reside in the forested and hill-top villages of the Eastern Ghats in Visakhapatnam district….more