Cyclone Fani adds to the woes of Kolho tribe village near Bhubaneswar
Fierce winds tore through mud and thatch houses and blew away the roof of a primary school in Kandalei tribal village, which neither has a motorable road nor a primary health centre or an anganwadi
Vishwanath Kolho doesn't know his age. "May be, I am 55 or 60," he says. He also doesn't remember how old he was when, as a young child, he walked alongside his father all the way from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha to Kandalei, a distance of more than 300 kilometres, in the state's Khorda district. It must have been some time in 1960s.
"We had a very difficult life in Mayurbhanj. My father could not feed his family," reminisced Vishwanath. "We had some tribe members living near Bhubaneswar. When I was a child, they visited us and convinced my father to move to Bhubaneswar," said Vishwanath, whose father relocated toKandalei, about 20 kms from Bhubaneswar city, and worked as a daily wage earner doing odd jobs like cutting bamboo, working as a farm labourer or construction worker to make both ends meet.
Along with Vishwanath and his family came a couple of more Kolho schedule tribe families to find a new home — Kandalei village in Jatani block near the border of Chandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary — which today has 32 households of Kolho families with a total population of about 250.
For decades, these 32 Kolho tribe families continued to live 'illegally' on land next to the sanctuary. Since they own no farmland, all of them do odd jobs or take up land on rent for rain-fed farming. It is only about three years ago that these schedule tribe families received patta (legal land record) of their homestead land.
"Young men migrate to other states in search of work. Others locally do daily wage works," said Vishwanath. Menfolk earn about Rs 250 a day and women Rs 150 a day, he added.
On May 3, cyclone Fani shattered homes in the tribal village
On May 3 morning, cyclone Fani hit Odisha's coast in Puri, about 65 kms away from Kandalei, and shattered homes in the tribal village.
Vishwanath's mud and thatch house collapsed too.
"Twenty-five houses in the village are damaged due to Fani, of which 15 are completely destroyed. The primary school in our village is roofless, too. Strong winds of Fani blew away solar panel of our drinking water system, which isn't functioning anymore," said Sudarshan Kunkal, a member of Kolho tribe and resident of Kandalei.
Kunkal has spent several years in Mumbai as a construction worker. It's only in the last three to four years he has returned to his village and taken up daily wage works.
On May 16 when Gaon Connection visited Kandalei, the village didn't have electricity supply for the last one month due to some 'fault' and 'sparking' that is yet to fixed despite repeated complaints by local people.
The village has no motorable road
The village has no motorable road (the nearest motorable road is 2.5 kms away) and one has to reach it through a forest. Kandalei neither has an anganwadi (pre-primary health care centre) nor a primary health centre (PHC). The nearest anganwadi is 2.5 kms away and PHC seven kms away.
"During health emergencies, we gently tie a sick person or pregnant lady on a charpai and carry it to the health centre, which becomes extremely difficult during the monsoon season," said Kunkal. None of our children (below six years age) go to an anganwadi, he added.
As if these problems weren't enough, Cyclone Fani added to the woes of Kolho families in Kandalei.
"A day before Fani, panchayat members visited our village and informed us about the approaching cyclone. They told us to shift to panchayat office building about five kilometres away. But, only four-five families went there. I stayed back with my daughter and husband in our home," said Ashritai, a resident of Kandalei.
"Both my daughter and I were very scared of the high-speed winds of Fani. I have never experienced anything like that before", said Ashritai, who has a three-room house — one cemented room and two mud-and-thatch rooms (including kitchen). "The cemented room saved our lives. Both mud-and-thatch rooms collapsed," she recalled.
The government announced an immediate relief of Rs 2,000 and 50 kilograms of rice per Fani-affected family. "We have received Rs 2,000, but to collect 50 kgs of rice we need to go to panchayatoffice over five kilometres away," said Vishwanath.
Villagers of Kandalei haven't calculated losses caused by Fani
Villagers of Kandalei haven't calculated losses caused by Fani. But, keeping in mind most of them have a hand to mouth living, any damages are worrisome to them.
"My mud and thatch house collapsed and all the foodgrains stored in it have been washed away. I don't know how to calculate the losses in terms of money," said Kunkal. Post Fani, he received 5 kgs of rice on his ration card [as part of the Food Security Act] on which he is sustaining himself.
The village has a solar-powered water system connected with two public standposts from where villagers collected drinking water. But Fani blew away one of the solar panels and the drinking water system became defunct. Villagers are meeting their daily water needs through handpumps.
The biggest challenge for the residents of Kandalei is a lack of livelihood. "Since we don't own farmland, we take some land on rent from land-owners on fifty-fifty basis. We don't pay any money for rent, but at the end of crop season, whatever is the produce, we share half with the land owner. All farm investment and risks are our own," said Vishwanath.
But, for the last four to five years, it is becoming increasingly difficult even to find farmland on rent. "People no more rent farmland to us. They fear we may grab their land, so they prefer keeping it fallow than letting us plough it," he lamented.
"Our entire life is a struggle"
Daily wage works are also not regular. "In a month, we get work for 15 to maximum 20 days. Women mostly work as farm labourers and earn Rs 100-150 a day," said Ashritai.
Works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005, are also not regular. "There are years we do not get any work under NREGA. Sometimes we get NREGA works for only 20 days in a year," complained Kunkal. Under the 2005 Act, people are entitled to 100 days work a year and 150 days a year in case of a drought year.
Our entire life is a struggle. Fani has only added more problems to it, said Vishwanath, as he reminisced the journey he undertook decades ago with his father in search of a 'better life'.