Urgent action needed against spread of Covid in tribal areas!

A forest rights group demands that the Government of India act to support tribal and forest dwellers affected due to Covid second surge

Image Courtesy:newindianexpress.com

Provide a response team for tribal and forest dwelling communities adversely affected by the second wave of Covid-19, demanded civil society organisations, activists, researchers in a letter to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) on June 4, 2021.

The group said, “Covid-19 spread, which was sparse during the first wave, has increased and intensified this year compounded with poor or non-existent health service.”

Accordingly, members recommended: 

  • a government Covid-Response Cell to collect data, communicate preventive protocols and conduct RT-PCR and special vaccination drives; 
  • special monitoring of health care structure and services; 
  • immediate removal of forest-entry restrictions, allowing indigenous people to exercise rights approved by their respective Gram Sabha; 
  • state government support for transport of forest produce, its procurement and marketing to prevent distress sale; delivery of essential materials like food grains, vegetables, medicines, masks, sanitizers etc.; 
  • effective coverage with all social security schemes such as MGNREGA.

On the aspect of livelihood, the group said, “Nearly 87 percent of Adivasis are forest dependent. Minor forest produce collection, transport and sales are affected by the lockdown. State procurement and special measures to address livelihood and food security are largely absent or ineffective. Other calamities such as cyclones, forest fires and untimely rains have further pushed them to severe distress.”

The group also suggested activating State Tribal Welfare departments to ensure effective implementation of the above recommendations. It suggested that the State Tribal Welfare departments and MoTA can work together to streamline a flow of information allowing easy monitoring of the situation, status of services and response to emergencies.

Signatories like Madhu Sarin and CR Bijoy of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Soumitra Ghosh of the All India Forum for Forest Movement, Neema Pathak Broome of Kalpavriksh, noted that 21 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) already reported Coronavirus infection.

Prior to the letter, the group submitted a report to the government in May 2020 highlighting problems faced by Adivasis and other forest dwellers during the first wave. It demanded urgent action, including creation of a task force for quick response towards the situation.

While it is unclear whether officials responded to the report at the time, nowadays Adivasi areas lack effective and accessible health care facilities. Absence of basic equipment like oximeters, medicines, and capacity to deal with emergencies have compounded the crisis. Even to access basic health facilities, one has to travel to far away district headquarters where healthcare facilities are functioning at full-capacity.


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