Drought forces tribals out of Ghatli
GHATLI: Ghatli, where three children died of malnutrition within a span of one week last month, wears a deserted look as about 320 persons out of its 800 odd population scattered over 14 "padas" (cluster of houses) have migrated to Gujarat in search of livelihood. The migration was unprecedented this year as the yield of Kharif crops was too low due to insufficient rains. Those left behind, especially children, are malnourished.
The village has a primary school, which has 81 students on its rolls. The residents depend on four handpumps (one each at Ghatli, Ambapada, Raisinghpada and Palatpada), for water supply. The nearest post office is 2 km away at Kakadda and the nearest telephone 30 km away at Dhadgaon. The nearest doctor is at the primary health centre (PHC) 20 km away at Mandvi. A sub-centre of the PHC was opened in Ghatli on March 23 after three children died within a span of one week.
A nurse and an attendant were posted and some medicines, mainly ORS packets, I V fluids and anti-biotics provided. The three children:Sandeep Rajanarya Vasave (3 years), who died on March 9; his brother Bhavsingh (4 years) on March 12; and Somi Divalya Walvi (3 years) on March 17 were from Ambapada (two kilometres from Ghatli) and the cause of their deaths was given as respiratory problems and dehydration.
Strangely enough, the incident came as a bliss in disguise for the primary school students of Ghatli. The children were waiting for their quota of foodgrains (three kilos of rice per month per student who has 80 per cent attendance at school) under the school meals scheme for the past six months. As the governmental machinery woke up from its slumber after the three children died, the quota was immediately released. Each of the 81 students received 18 kilos of rice.
When the Sarpanch of Ghatli, Ditya Naktya Walvi, was asked about malnourishment deaths, he summoned the attendant of the PHC sub-centre to search for the register. The local school teacher, P V Devre, was also summoned to read out the entries as the nurse was away and the Sarpanch, illiterate.
The register revealed entries from March 23. The number of malnourished patients attended was 72 on the first day and 46 on the following day. The number went on declining and from April 10 onwards only two patients visited the clinic. Six children were referred by the PHC sub-centre to the Dhadgaon rural hospital, 30 km away for further treatment.
A visit to Ambapada revealed a deserted cluster of thatched huts. The families of the three children, who had died last month, had left the hamlet to search for a livelihood elsewhere. In one hut, a boy, Ravi Vankar Vasave (1 year) was sick. He had fever for the past two days and looked undernourished. The family had not taken him to any doctor as the nearest free dispensary was 20 km away at Mandvi and the parents did not have money for the journey. They were also not aware that a clinic had been opened two kilometres away at Ghatli as houses are scattered over the hills in small clusters hampering vital communication.
The Sarpanch informed that a free clinic had been opened at Ghatli. The latter agreed to take the boy to the clinic. The families fear that once they visit the government clinics, they would be referred to hospitals far away (to Dhadgaon which is 30 km away or to Dhule which is about 140 km away) requiring more money for transporation and stay.
The boy's father, Vasave, tills three acres of land, cultivating jowar, maize and pulses. "Every year we used to produce about 15 to 16 bags (of one quintal each) of jowar" he said, "but this year there was less rainfall and we could only grow about four bags." He said that the drought had left him and his wife with no option but to work for road contracators, who used to pay Rs 37 as daily wages.
The employment is intermittent and no other job is locally available. Vasave is the father of five children and the staple food of the family is jowar with toor dal. Milk is a luxury and the cow owned by the family has been let loose to feed herself as there is no fodder at hand. On festive occasions, the family eats chicken, but such occasions are rare.
The plight of most of the tribals of Ghatli and 14 padas (Kakad Dara, Dhavalghat, Kamod Vasaha, Amli Pani, Keli Pani, Hakadi Keli, Kanja Keli, Agripada, Khamla, Kapti, Horpujapada, Kundyapada, Jomkhedi and Ambepada) is similar to that of Vasave and many of them have migrated to Gujarat for a livelihood. The Sarpanch, Ditya Naktya Walvi, elected in 1996 is illitrate and the local teacher, P V Devre, looks after the records. Walvi said that the problem of malnourishment was perennial and that the gram panchayat had repeatedly requested the government to set up a grain bank at Ghatli under the Navsanjivan Yojana, but nothing was done.
Incidentally, the grain bank scheme is being implemented by the Maharashtra government through NGOs since 1995. The scheme covers 68 villages in Dhule, 24 in Nandurbar and 15 in Nashik districts. Besides, a parallel grain bank scheme is being implemented by the Central government in 60 villages in Nandurbar district, four in Dhule and two in Nashik since 1999-2000.