Chenchu voters await poll booth

D. Sreenivasulu
Traverse 30 km through the forest or 48 km by road to reach polling station

Only 21 of them enrolled as voters while nearly 78 families live at Pecheruvu Families in forest unable to receive benefits such as Indiramma houses, land

Poll matters: Chenchu tribals watching television at Pecheruvu in Nallamala forest.
— Photo: U. Subramanyam

KURNOOL: Chenchu voters and district election authorities are waiting for the nod of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to open a polling station at Pecheruvu in the core forest of Nallamala.
As per the election records, 21 voters were enrolled at the habitation. Until now, they had to traverse a distance of 30 km through the forest or 48 km by road to reach the polling station at Kottala Cheruvu near Atmakur town. Even to reach the motorable road, they had to trek 14 km through the dense forest.
The Chenchu tribes were surprised to know that only 21 of them were enrolled as voters at Pecheruvu while nearly 78 families lived there. Collector Mukesh Kumar said since the proposal was not cleared by the EC, they would explore other ways like providing transport to them with permission. The district administration planned to repeat the request for the polling station.
Some time ago, the forest authorities attempted to evict the families out of core forest area to reduce pressure on the forest. As the package was unimpressive, the tribals returned to their old habitation. Some families set up a temporary shelter at Kottala Cheruvu.
The families which remained in the forest were unable to receive the benefits offered by the government such as Indiramma houses and land.
No permanent structure is allowed inside the forest excepted the traditional thatched houses. Only the forest department owns a few old buildings in which the fair price shop, GCC store and a school were housed. Nearly 10 forest staff officials are permanently posted to the place. Though nearly 30 children live there, the teacher visits only once in a month.
Arthi Naganna, a tribal leader told The Hindu that they were more comfortable inside the forest as they could collect the minor forest produce free and sell to the GCC. Also, they raise buffaloes and goats. The milk collected from the animals is converted into ghee sold in the nearby towns. Goat merchants themselves visit the place to buy the animals once in a fortnight.
Constant friction is going on between the forest officials and tribals over continuation of the habitation.
The process of settlement of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act is underway.
Meanwhile, the tribals are starving in the absence of availability of nutritious diet. Malaria and TB are rampant among Chenchus while the forest staff who consumed relatively more nutritious diet escaped the diseases even though they lived in the same location.