Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Korku Adivasis in Melghat Region of Maharashtra

Korku Adivasis in Melghat Region( Maharashtra):
A Socio- Economic Study

Lalit Khandare (M.Phil.Planning and Development)

Prof. Rowena Robinson
Prof. A. Ramanathan

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Bombay




POVERTY ……………15



“When people go hungry, it’s not simply the food that is short supply, IT’S JUSTICE”


This paper highlights on the socio-economic conditions of Adivasis in Melghat region of India. Melghat is a scheduled tribal area and main resident of this is the predominant tribe in the region comprising of 89.27% of the tribal population. The major part of Melghat region is covered with Tiger Reserve (buffer zone) and the reserve forest. There are 2 villages evicted out of 22 villages, which comes under buffer zone. The forest department of the Maharashtra Government prohibited access to natural nutrition and medicinal plants traditionally relied upon by the Korku tribe.

Every year around two lakhs children are dying in the state of Maharashtra.[1] It has been observed between 1998 & 2000, the Child Death Rate of tribal children in this region is 105%, which is highest in Maharashtra State. Tribals from Melghat and other protected are the most vulnerable to such deaths. There is drastic decline in the population of Korku[2] tribe i.e. around 11% between 1891 till 1990.[3] Since 1977, 90% of Korkus and other tribes in Melghat region were below poverty, which is far below the national average (around 40%) and national tribal average (around 60%).[4] People in this region have been deprived of their right to development; with barely any development plans being implemented, rather lots of restrictions are being imposed. The proposed plans by the rehabilitation committee[5] are not implemented in the resettlement of two villages where tribal again left in the vicious circle of poverty and deaths. The right to life is devalued that there is virtually no population growth and their existence is threatened.[6]


The present seminar paper examines the issues of Korku Adivasis of Melghat region specifically focus on their pattern of changes livelihood, heath, forest rights with the evolution of forest and wild life protection acts, notifications. Paper also highlights the issue of rising deaths of malnutrition in the region with and the role of government machinery and non government organizations to deal with the situation.


w To find the impact of Indian Forest Act/Wild life Protection Act and government remedial programs on the rising deaths & drastic declining population of these tribes.

w To study the status of their livelihood rights and other human rights at national and international standards.


This seminar paper will be based on the secondary data. Sources of secondary data: Books, Journals, Magazines, Newspapers clippings, Government and NGO reports, Gazetteers, Archives. Interaction with NGOs and other people to analyse the present status of Korku tribes in the region.


w Human rights standards were referred on Indian Constitution and United Nations international standards (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights & International Covenant on Social, Economic & Cultural Rights). The violation of Adivasis rights specially on related to their life, dignity, employment, wages, health care, child mortality other relevant causes were highlighted from the report prepared by Shila Barse,“ Our children are Gone” Neergurav Publication.

w Child Mortality Study and Action Group formed by an organization called SEARCH from Maharashtra, which conducted a survey to find out child mortality rate, causes and possible solutions in various parts of Maharashtra. The references are used from the report brought out a by this survey ,“ ‘Kovli Pangal’, Each year two lakh deaths in Maharashtra”.

w A book written by Stephen Fuchs, 'The Korkus of Vindhya Hills’, Published by Inter-India Publications, New Delhi, is used to cover the issues on geographical and historical setting of Korku habitat, language, agricultural landholding cultivation patterns and also about landed, landless Adivasis in Melghat region.

w The population classification, villages, geographical area and related detail are taken from Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995 and other District Gazetteer.

w The various legislations and process of changes in forest and wildlife administration, and the legal status of various government notification are given in a an Assessment Report, ‘Project Tiger Melghat’ 1974-1994, which is prepared by C.S. Kirpekar from Vidharbha Natural History study Centre, Nagpur. And a references were taken from book written by N.P. Bhanage, ‘Tribal Commissions and Committees in India’, Himalaya publishing House, Delhi,1993. This book elaborate about the various national and state level committees and reports prepared by government to look into the cause of Adivasis.

w And other reports and papers prepared by government organizations (like, Tribal Research Training Institute, Pune.) and reports by Non Government Organisations (like KHOJ, PREM, Melghat Mitra, Lokayan) have been used to focus on the present conditions of the Adivasis and their efforts to work for their issues.

w The news reports by news dailies like Indian express, Times of India and local daily Deshonnati is also used to support the recent death figures and people views on the situation in Melghat area.


Some of the most important features of the process of Adivasis transition derive from the way they are spatially located across the country. A unique feature of the geographical distribution of Adivasis in India is the simultaneous occurrence of high density and their minority of the region’s population. This is true of all regions of adivasi concentrations except North –east. More than 90 % of the over 8 Crore Adivasis live in States where they form less than 25% of population. Thus, the pattern within districts and blocks also is one of Adivasis pockets surrounded by the large masses of non- Adivasis. They are the aboriginal inhabitants of India, driven over centuries, further and further away from the alluvial plains and fertile river basins into what has been defined as ‘refuge zones’. They revered and protected the forest that provided them with their basic needs. They were given customary rights over forest produce. But today their existence in even these areas is coming under threat. Adivasi areas have not received their fair share of potential benefits from the mainstream development efforts. There was always conflict between national object on forest preservation and needs local adivasi, it can be seen, the history of restrictions and regulation in forest legislations in India. As the pressure of forest –based peoples movements mounted all over the country, gradual shift away from viewing forests as revenue earning assets became evident in the 1980s. However, after the 1980 Forest Conservation Act, the conflict has come to be seen as one between environment protection and needs of the local Adivasi communities. The National Forest Policy of 1988 did for the first time explicitly recognized that domestic requirement of the local people for fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produe and construction timber. It also emphasized that while safeguarding their customary rights; the Adivasis should be closely associated in the protection, regeneration and development of forests. But this changed remained limited to the category of what are known as ‘ forest villages’. But all these things remained on papers everything remained unchanged.
The process of deforestation compelled Adivasis to migrate to other areas. In the name of development 18.5 million persons have been displaced by dams, mines, industries, wildlife sanctuaries and other projects, 75% percent of whom have not been rehabilitated. Hardly any attempts has ever made to secure the consent of those adversely affected by these projects, to involve them in devising the human and appropriate strategies of rehabilitation or to make them party to the benefits of this development.
Following the breakdown of the relationship between Adivasi and forests, the majority (Over 93 %) of the Adivasi have shifted to agriculture and allied sector. They are subjected to constant exploitation through landlords, creditors, etc. There are exorbitant rate of interest which results in the Adivasi is forced sell his crop to the creditor, work in his land and many times becomes bonded labourer in his own lands.
The Adivasi dilemma must be seen as intrinsic consequences of overcentralised, non-location-specific, trickle-down development paradigm, which ultimately affects the sustainable environment.


Melghat is a Scheduled Area and main resident of area are Korku-a Scheduled Tribe. Korku is the predominant tribe in the region comprising of 89.27% of the tribal population, others amongst the tribes are Gonds, Nihals and Mongias.Balais, Vanjaris, Gaolies, etc constitute the remaining population. In language and general type they are said to be identical with the Kols and Santals. Their dialect is Korku but Hindi is also commonly spoken among them. Korku language belongs to Munda stock of aboriginal language. Originally they worshippers of the Sun and the Moon. But Now- a –days their whole creed is so much tainted with Hinduism that their original beliefs are well nigh lost. [7]

The Korkus occupy mainly the central section of the Satpura Mountains, the Mahadeo hills and eastern section, while the westernmost section is occupied mainly by the Bhils. The
history of this highland is not well known. So far no systematic prehistoric research has been carried out. But from stray findings and sporadic excavations near Pechmarhi and Bhopal, it appears that this hilly region was the home of early as well as middle and late Paleolithic man. In chalcholathic times people of Malwas culture migrated eastwards and penetrated into the valleys of the Satpuras and Vindhyas. They advanced as far as Tripuri, near Jabalpur, as excavations reveal. The Mahabharata and Ramayana epics speak of all India south of Jumna as vast wilderness inhabited by hostile demons (Rakshas) and wild animals.[8] Hindu ascetics and adventurous Kshatriaya nobles wandered occasionally through these regions and their heroic feats or penances were narrated and eulogized by great poets. It is frequently stated in these legendry narratives that the wandering heroes allied themselves in marriages with daughters of the aboriginal rulers of these regions.

As the central highland of the Satpuras- the main habitat of the Korkus- was from early times onwards ruled by different political powers, the history of this region is not at all uniform. It experienced different systems of administration and land tenure according to the tradition and the whims of the overlords.

The area known as Melghat is comprises of mainly two tahsils of Amravati District namely 1.Dharani 2.Chikhaldhara. The region spread across 315[9] presently existing villages and encompasses an area of 140025 hectares. The whole from north south Melghat area is about 65 Kms and about 100Kms. From east west, its latitude is 76d-38’ and 72d.34 east. The area situated on the boundary of Satpura range to the South of Tapi river, is known as Gawilgarh hills or Melghat, Gawilgarh being the name of an old fort and Melghat being the name of Khapra and Tapi rivers in the north. Gawilgarh fort now in ruins, is situated along one of the southern spurs of Gawilgarh hills and is about 2 kms. From the Chikhaldara platue towards south[10].


Total No. of Villages
Total Area
Total families
Total Population
Tribal Population
Percentage of Tribal
Table – Demographic profile of Melghat region[11]

The forest were managed and administered by the Forest Department vide Revenue and Forest Department Resolution No.FLD- 4267-T-Y, dated 22nd May 1967, these villages have been converted into revenue villages, till that time these villages form part of reserve forest only. The area is bounded as follows:
North – old Raiyatwari area of Dharni and Bairagarh and Part of Betul District of MadhyaPradesh.
East – Part of Betul District of Madhya Pradesh and part of KatKumbh Raiyatwari area.
South- Achalpur and Daryapur tahsils of Amravati district and the Akot tahsil of Akola district.
West – Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh[12].

As the name implies, Melghat is literally a meeting place of Ghats. The area is very hilly and consists of succession of hills and valleys in a confused pattern with constant abrupt variation in attitude, aspect and gradient.

The entire Melghat is traversed by many rivers because of which villages get cut off during rainy season. The main ridge of Gawilgarh hills form water shade of Tapi and Purna rivers, which drain the tract of Melghat towards north- south respectively. As the ridge is situated towards southern part the greater part of Melghat is drained north- east towards Tapi river. The more important among the tributaries of the Tapi river are the Khursi and Tingria rivers take their sources in Kotkumbh plateau. The former after a brief sojourn into the Betul district re-enters the tract flowing close to the district boundary for some distance and then follows it for a while till it leaves it to flow northwards to join the Tapi. Khandu, Khapra and Sipna rivers rise near Khandala in Betul district , while the Garge and Darbar rivers have their sources from area itself.

The monsoon sets in Melghat during middle of June and it ends by the end of September .The quantum of rainfall in Melghat varies .The average annual rainfall is usually higher in the main ridge of Gawilgarh(a fort hill), which amount to1784mm.at Chikhaldahra. The rainfall decreases towards the north and west, average annual rainfall at Dharani is 1373mm.However, some of the valleys receive rainfall upto 2500mm in a year. The average rainy days at Melghat are approximately 70 days. The Melghat Tiger Reserve spread across their area, which is comprised of dry, deciduous and broad, leafed forest and is home to nearly 100 tigers. The forest covers four percent of dry Vidarbha area but supply nearly 30 percent of the region’s water needs.[13]

Despite of having high rainfall, Melghat still suffers very badly from water scarcity. The rainwater quickly gets drained off into steep slopes and hard-bedded hill streams. As a result, there are very few perennial springs and not a single perennial river in the area. The toll of malaria in Melghat is very high. Due to this malaria impact the general vitality of people is very low and people also fall prey to pneumonia, bronchitis and other disease. All these clubbed together known as Melghat fever.

The major occupation of the Korkus before they took over to settled form of existence, was logging in the forests. Initially these people worked in forests. Earlier the villages were taken care of by the forest department, later they were transformed to revenue department around 1971 and the entire welfare activities were transferred to the Zilla Parishad’s various departments thus ended. Korkus are honest, hardworking and are skillful mainly in the forest and agriculture works. They have a custom from thousands years to do independent work and depend only on forest produce. Their main source of income and food is surrounding forest only. They do not hesitate to migrate in near by village for forestry work. Their needs are minimum. Their villages are built in two rows flanking a straight street and are placed half a kilometer away from the water source.


5.1 Forest reserves
After the defeat of Bhosalas in the year 1818 in the battle of Gawilgarh, the Berar districts, which belong to the Nizam of Hyderabad, came under British administration. The British administrators wanted to introduce scientific forestry for deriving long-term benefits from the Indian Forests in Melghat. They took up systematic demarcation of the better teak growing forests in Melghat in 1853. The Baragarh and Gugamal reserves in which the Project Tiger Melghat is included were constituted in 1866 and 1867 respectively, as the forest administration commenced with posting of a deputy conservator of Forest at Paratwada sometime in 1860. Berar forest rules were notified in 1871 and the Berar forest law enacted in 1886, thus these forest reserves were demarcated and notified under these rules and act. Later in 1911, the British administration took over the Berar district permanently and the Indian Forest Act of 1864 was made applicable to these forests. Melghat Forests were thus notified as Reserve Forests.[14]
In these forests shifting cultivation was totally stopped and all adverse rights and concessions were withdrawn. Attempts were made to carry out sowing of teak seeds in suitable areas. However, this work discontinued. There were lots of restrictions and regulations were imposed in the forest reserve area, which affected the livelihood of the adivasis. As a result of this some of the local population migrated outside the forest. All those who remained were settled in forest villages. They were allotted the plots for cultivation and were expected to come on forest work whenever called upon to do so. Trees were marked for removal and timber therefrom was allowed to be removed under license scheme. Later due to economic recession in 1930, the license system of timber exploitation came to a stop.
In 1977 these forest villages were transferred to the Revenue Department and converted into revenue villages by allocating them their lands and giving necessary pattas. The revenue staff located in far away places like Dharni & Chikhaldhara has difficulty in approaching these villages and the problems faced by them are, therefore, difficult to tackle immediately. In 1993 there were large-scale malnutrition deaths in the villages in the Melghat, probably due to no work for the adult population, shortage of food supplies at proper period and lack of medical facilities by the concerned departments. It appears that a great disservice was done to the tribals of Melghat by deforestation and transfer of the forest villages to the revenue Department.
5.2 Tiger Reserves:
Melghat tiger Reserve (MTR) is located in Satpura Hill Ranges in Central India. It represents 6E Central Highlands province of ‘The Deccan Peninsula’ Zone in India in the rime habitat of Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera Tigris).

MTR Extends over an area of 1676.93 Km. of Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests buffered by another approximate 1200km. of Reserve Forests. It harbours a viable population of Tiger (73 -1998 estimate) Supported by another 20-25 tigers in the surrounding reserve
forests. The area is catchments to the five major rivers viz. Khandu, Khapna, Sipna, Gadaga and Dolar all of which are tributaries of river Tapti. The Teak (Tectona grandis) dominated Dry deciduous forests of the area harbours variety of fauna and flora making state it one of the prime biodiversity repository in Maharashtra State.

MTR area has been classed into three Zones of management to strike a balance between the biodiversity conservation and ecologically sustainable community development. The ‘core area’ with a legal status of a National park is totally inviolate of human interference. Gugamal National Park harbours almost half the tiger population of the Reserve. The ‘Buffer area’ declared as Melghat wildlife sanctuary. The pressures of domestic consumption are well absorbed by the buffer area and it retains its inherent potential of potent Tiger habitat. The ‘Multiple Use Area’ is reserve forest area.

Melghat represents pre dominant forest area traversed by rivers and its tributaries, making villages in accessible during rainy season. However, till 1988 forest working in this area was at large scale and as explained above, tribal population used to work and get enough money for their daily needs. These monetary aspects satisfied their nutritional aspects and so even during rainy season, when due to excessive rains, roads used to get blocked and Government machinery could not reach to the villagers, we found gradually more large-scale deaths due to malnutrition or diseases.
Notifications and legal status[15]
Sr. No
Year and Notification
Legal status
In 1866 and 1867 by notification under rule of 1871 or Section 40 (C) of Berar Forest Act of 1866 as amended by Berar Forest (Amendment) Law of 1891.
Bairagarh and Gugamal reserves were constituted and along with remaining blocks were declared as state forests Class A and Class B
Notification No. 1121 dt. 25.11.1913 Under Indian Forest act of 1878
The state forests were declared as ‘Reserve Forests’. These were further classified into ‘A’ class Forests and ‘C’ class forests. The ‘A’ Class Forests were managed principally as timber forests and fuel reserve, whereas ‘C’ class forests were primarily intended for grazing. The area of PTM is comprised of ‘A’ class forests only.
Notification No. WLP-16967/151243-Y Dt. 20.6.1967, under section 19 & 20 of Bombay Wild Animal and Wild Birds Protection Act of 1951
An area of 301.589 Sq. Km. of this PTM was declared as Dhakna-Kolkaz game Sanctuary.
Government of Maharashtra No. WLP- 1972/5560-X Dt. 16.2.1974
The Scheme ‘The Project Tiger in Melghat Forests’ of Amravati District was sanctioned.
Notification No. WLP-1978/10553(A) dt. 5.9.1985 under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
The PTM was declared as Melghat Tiger Sanctuary with an area of 1676.93Sq.Km. including the area of Dhakna-Kolkaz Sanctuary.
Notification No.WLP-1086/1860/FS Dt. 27.11.1987. Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
The intention to continue the core area of 361.84 Sq. Km as a National Park, was decided vide this notification.
Notification No. WLP-1092/PR-526/ F-5, dated 15.02.94 Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Reduced the Melghat Tiger century area from 1676.93 Sq. Km. to 1150.03 Sq. Km.(Gugamal National Park + 788.75 Sq. Km Sanctuary area-buffer Zone+526.90 Multiple use area)

The above notifications and legal status shows in 1985 government declared Melghat Sanctuary comprising total area of 1597.23 Sq. Km. So, out of total area of 3094 Sq. km. about more than half area was declared sanctuary. Out of this 1676.92 Sq.Km., 361.28 Sq. Km. area was declared as Gugamal National Park. As per Govt. of India instruction no work should be done in sanctuary area. At the same time, working plans, which were in operation since 1975-76 was also stopped, since 1988. So after population, which was dependant on forestry work mainly, could not find any other alternative source of better economic source of income. During rainy season, villagers got out off due to bad communication government machinery could not reach in time and villagers in absence of source of income could not make their own alternative arrangement. This situation continued till 1993. In the first half of 1994 Govt. of Maharashtra denotified the sanctuary area to 1150.03 Sq. Km., which also includes 361.28 Sq. Km Gugamal National Park. In Gugamal National Park area, there is absolutely no habitation. Not a single village is situated inside this Park area.

5. 3 Displacement of three villages:

However, there are 22 villagers still located on the peripheral 788.75 Sq. Km. lands. These 22 villages are proposed to be rehabilitated outside Melghat Sanctuary and at present no working plan was introduced in Melghat forestry operation is facing some constraints and is not able to generate the size and quantum of employment that is needed by the local population and which can develop their economic aspects.[16]

The three villages are being displaced out of these 22 villages from the buffer zone. There were a series of consultations amongst people from the villages, public officials and NGOs. The rehabilitation committee was formed which comprised of the representatives from all above groups. The NGOs on in consultation with adivasis prepared a rehabilitation plan to be considered before resettlement and rehabilitation The important points of these plan were:
1. The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Area) Act (PESA) gives a number of powers to communities living in scheduled areas. Most importantly, it refers to constitutional powers to people in scheduled areas (5/6th schedules). Hence while rehabilitating communities from scheduled area, it is important that- a) the alternative land should be in a scheduled area.
2. The entire resettlement process should be carried forward only in consultation and after receiving the assent from Gram Sabha. The decision taken by the Gram Sabha shall be binding.
3. The village should be ideally being rehabilated with similar ecological conditions.
4. The village should have the status of revenue village.
5. everybody should be provided with the house, place ,cultivable land, drinking water, village school, playground, electricity, Roads, cattle shed, Grazing land, anganwadi,Fair price shop, medical facility, sewage line, toilets, burial ground, firewood, Biogas system
6. The follow up process for the five years.
These Koha, Kund, Bori have been rehabilitated at Rajura Giravpur in Akot Tahsil of Akola District in March 2001. Each household has been given Rs. 30000 to construct their house along with 1 Hectare land. They built school for three villages without any teaching facility (teachers, etc). They have told to resettle in the period near rainy season, when many of them could not even construct their house. Many of their promises are unfulfilled, eg. Health, sanitation, infrastructure and communication. And government is praising this work for nothing.[17] The government is in hurry to resettle the remaining 19 villages though they haven’t rehabilitated the earlier villages properly and government even failed to fulfill their promises and the suggestion and considerations of Rehabilitation Committee.


Despite anthropological jurisprudence reaffirmed during the drafting of the constitution of India, recognizing the specific characteristics of aboriginal civilizations and in particular their preferences to live and die in their ancestral lands, in Melghat, the Government of Maharashtra officials have virtually aided de facto transfers of tribal lands by resorting to the strategy of studied in action. In most of cases government failed to restore tribal lands to tribals in accordance with the Maharashtra Restoration of Land to Scheduled Tribes Act, 1974. The end result is that non-tribals are currently worked on their own lands on exploitative wages with being paid less than men.

Comparison of the 1961 Census with the 1980 benchmark survey Government of Maharashtra Tribal Research and Training (TRTI), Pune, confines the land impoverishment of the Korku. According to 1931 census of Korku 52.5% were cultivators and 40.7% field labourers, wood cutters, etc.[18] As per 1961 census, 75% working Korku were cultivators while 20.8% were agricultural labourers. In 1980, however, only 58% working Korku were cultivators while 37% were agricultural labourers. The 1980 survey also revealed that 35.83% Korku households were landless and 43.3 % owned 5 hectares or less. Between 1981 and 1991, the number of farm increased only by 12.5%, while the number of farm workers increased by 78.8%( given that 95.47% workers in Melghat are in the agricultural sector)

The crops traditionally cultivated by the Korku are kodo, kutki, jagni on light soil and gram, jowar and wheat on smaller scale on heavy soil, which form their staple diet. These crops need to the constantly monitor the field against wild boars and deers who are very fond of its flowers.

6.1 Below poverty line:
A family having an annual income of Rs. 15000 is considered to be living below poverty line this figure is terribly outdated. In the Melghat region the Korku have become the poorest of the poor. The 1980 benchmark survey revealed that 90.63% tribals in Dharni live below poverty line BPL which was than drawn at 3600/- per annum income.

According to 7th five-year plan 1992-1997 BPL figures were as follows:

BPL national Average
Tribal BPL national Average
Korku BPL

The Sinha Report refers to a 1992-93 BPL survey without giving any relevant essential information on the survey quoting him sources, and records that 9316 families out of a population of 1423360 tribal families in Melghat are BPL, which would mean 71% tribal families, are BPL. On the other hand, the Nalinakshan report asserts that 90% of Melghat tribal families are BPL.
A comparison with the National average of BPL families and of BPL tribal families shows the desperate situation of the Korku, 90% of whom have been BPL for at least two decades.


Right to life:
The right to life is declared that there is virtually no population growth. In fact, a whole tribe’s existence is threatened.

Over the centuries, the Korku have forced severe survival crisis, as is indicated by these census figures:

Korku Population

Korku Census[20]

The population figures are inclusive of Korku in the neighboring State of MP. After the reorganization of Indian States in 1956, a small percentage of Korku continue to live in areas now included in Madhya Pradesh. There has been no separate census of Korku after the British Colonial rule in 1980.

Recently the Mumbai High Court has taken Suo Motu writ petition no 5629 of 2004 on the basis of reports published in various Marathi newspapers about the untimely death of many children due to mal-nutrition within two months in Dhule and Nandurbar Districts and rising deaths in Melghat Regions of Amravati on 8th July, 2004. the Court has issued a order to the officials to provide regular reports of development progress and status of Adivasis in the region.

Right to livelihood & dignity (Art .21 of Constitution of India):
The administration’s disinterest in restoring to the indigenous people then alienated lands, refusal to even acknowledge the existence of bonded labour, its maintenance of legally due minimum wages so law that the workers are pushed and kept in the strata’s several rungs below the poverty subsistence line, its indifference to gender biased bondage, and unequal wage practices, its damnation of the tribals themselves as “ lazy” people responsible for their deprivation to absolve the administration of its accountability for the depressed labour market of the region, together the depressed labour market of the region, together amount to a near- negation of the tribals right to livelihood. Although the tribals work from down to dusk, they are reduced to dependence on occasional free distribution by the administration of miserly meals. The bondage of a section of the tribals, the unequal status of women in the labour market, the Government sustained deprivatory ages and the mutating of their status as welfare receiver, are constant assaults in the people’s dignity.
Access to health care: (12 ICESCR and 25 CRC)
In the case of Korku Tribe, the special access needs of the children within the age group of 0-3 years, who cannot walk alone to the Anganwadi and whose parents are away at work all the day, and of working pregnant woman and lactating mothers, should be recognized and assured.
The dependence standards are not possible in a system which relies essentially on unprofessional, perfunctorily trained, semi-literate Anganwadi workers. It also entitles the child and the families to access to information about health care, both traditional and modern.
The right to access to health care includes the right to access to traditional health care, the traditional practices and the modern techniques and medicines complementing each other to afford best possible care.
However, if the declared policy of government is to prevent the traditional medicine man from practicing his medicine, government should devise at least an acceptable and reasonable alternative for the communities in question. It is a cruel irony that the ‘reasonable’ alternative to traditional medicine has to walk several kilometers under the rain with a rick or dying child in order to receive unprofessional health care.

Infant / Child mortality :(CRC Art. 24 (2)(a))
The article specified transcends the requirement to reduce infant mortality to acknowledge the vulnerability of children at all ages, especially when the cause of their dissatisfactory health is nutrition –deprivation.
Adequate nutrition (Art. 24 (2) (c) Constitution of India) and Minor Forest Produce and Community control over Natural resources under PESA Panchayats( Extension to the Scheduled Areas)Act,1996:
The supplementary nutrition available in Anganwadis Melghat is limited to Milk and dry Khichadi. The word “ adequate” clearly requires a child specific age –compatible, need based and season- cognitive approach to nutrition. And access too traditional food and nutrition was an element of the right to life.
The Provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996:regarding minor forest produce (MFP)and natural resource(NR) , is to provide for adivasi control and ownership over MFP and NR in order to ensure community wellbeing and ecological sustainability by giving them autonomy with adivasi.[21]
The main minor forest products in the region are Tendu, Rosa grass, Gum, Mahua flowers ,fruits and Honey. In core zone no collection is allowed, while in the buffer zone collection is allowed for the bonafide consumption of the tribals. The collection of tendu leaves has been recently stopped. The forest department’s policy of prohibiting access to minor forest produce, has resulted in nutrition –deprivation of children and in a deterioration of Korku’s housing, increasing health hazards.
Article 24(3) of CRC requires the abolition of “ traditional practices prejudicial to health of the child”. Yet there is no evidence of harmful effects of traditional Korku medicinal practices. On the contrary the medicinal practices. On the contrary the medicinal Korku medicinal practices is very similar to Ayurvedic system of medicine, which is widely followed in the whole of India.
The current eviction issue to be debated is whether Art.19 (1) d may be interpreted in the context of the constitutional status of the Scheduled Areas and Art. 29, as including the right not to be moved against will from one’s ancestral place of residence. The debate which took place during the drafting of the constitution, leave no doubts about the right of indigenous people to remain in the tracks that have been inhabited for centuries by their communities.
Right to be free from racial discrimination:
(Art 15(COI), Art 1 of Convention against Racial discrimination)
The discrimination against the Korku people, based on their ethnic origin, and nullifying the exercise of their economic, social and cultural rights is violative of the convention against racial discrimination.
Right to be free from racial discrimination:
The Korku are one of the oldest aboriginals in India and much of their culture is inter-linked with the forest. In 1990 the Govt. of Maharashtra officially declared Melghat reserved forest. A direct and sudden consequences of this unilateral decision was the prohibition upon Korku people to pick up forest produce for their own consumption, in violation of Art.25 ICESCR and despite the stipulation of the National Forest Policy 1988,according to which “ the basic objective that should govern the National Forest Policy ‘ include’ meeting the requirement of fuel wood, fodder, minor forest produce and small timber of the rural and tribal population.”
The forest department continues to keep the Korku away from any decision making concerning forest policy.
Agenda 21, Chapter 26, “Recognizing and strengthening the role of Indigenous People and their communities.”
(Chpt. 26.B) in full partnership with indigenous people and their communities, government and where appropriate, inter- governmental organizations should aim at fulfilling following objectives.
i) Establishing the process to empower indigenous people and their communities through measures that include.
ii) Recognition that the lands of indigenous people and their communities should be protected from activities that are environmentally unsound or that the indigenous people concerned consider being socially and culturally inappropriate.
iii) Recognition of their values, traditional knowledge and resources management practices with a view to promoting environmentally sound and sustainable development.”

Conditions of work (Art. 6 and 7 ICESCR):
Melghat the minimum daily wages has always been and is still greatly below minimum wage rate of the Maharashtra and is not sufficient to provide the workers with even a subsistence living for themselves and their families. The situation is similar concerning the EGS, which is not implemented as per the standards provided in the scheme.
Sex discrimination (Art. 11 CEDAW):
The women agricultural labourers in Melghat are paid less than male worker.
Slavery (Art. 8(1) ICCPR):
In Melghat there is reliable evidence of bondage of Korku people by local non-tribal landlords.

The Studies on tribal development before and after independence revealed that tribals have been facing problems such as land alienation, indebtedness, poverty, etc. Keeping in a view their social, economic and educational problems govern that named various development schemes for tribals in and outside Tribal Sub Plan areas. Infact there are constitutional provisions specially designed to safeguard the interests of tribals.

The Nav Sanjeevan Yojana aimed at integrated and coordinated implementation and strengthening of various drinking water, health facilities, etc. to the tribals which were previously being implemented by several agencies at several levels without ensuring proper coordination. An Integrated Tribal development Project (ITDP) is the primary unit of planning and the implementation of programmes in the tribal areas. ITDP presents an efforts to influence the total socio-economic process in an area so as to ensure that the tribal communities are major partner in the new development, building up the programs from the below with reference to specific needs of each area.
These projects are started with an idealist grounds but till today many Adivasis are unaware about any such schemes if exists in their areas. As a result of non-implementation of these schemes and deteriorating forest and agricultural support forcing them die.

8.1 Adivasis, NGOs[22] and government

The government machinery has a number of explanations for the deaths of numerous tribal children in Maharashtra's Melghat region. But the adivasis themselves do not identify any of these as the cause of their deaths. Instead they point to the systematic destruction of their traditional livelihood in the name of law and development.

Reports of infant deaths due to malnutrition in the tribal-dominated Melghat area of Maharashtra make front-page news almost every year. This year (2004) too, the deaths were extensively reported in the local and national media. According to the state government, 59 infants died of malnutrition. However, local NGOs claim that the figure heavily under-represents the number of actual deaths, and that the actual figure may be closer to 1,000 deaths this summer. NGOs say that the government attributes these deaths to other causes - diseases, snakebites, and even road accidents. And after a few heart-rending pictures and stories, and visits by a few high-profile politicians, the news has been more or less forgotten.[23]
Why do malnutrition deaths continue to occur in a place like Melghat, where millions have been pumped in the last decade - both by the government and NGOs - in health programmes and welfare schemes to avoid such deaths? Between 1992 and 1997, an estimated 5,000 children died due to malnutrition in the region. Most of these children are in the 0-6 age group. The government attributes several deaths to low birth-weight, but local activists say that malnutrition in mothers is responsible for low birth-weight. Several programmes were announced at that time to prevent further deaths. But recent deaths indicate that the programmes have not been able to achieve much.

These incidences of tribal deaths have become a stereotype drama. Some time it remain a political issue by opposition party before elections and the news, pictures are flashed in the national and local media, which are followed by visits of government officials, high profile ministers and then after some days the news has been more or less forgotten.

Arun Bhatia believes that tribal welfare should mean more than protecting their arts and folklore, it should include the examination of their sufferings too. The series of surveys conducted by Tribal Research Training Institute (TRTI), whose findings are startling, take the scheme for financial assistance to pregnant tribal women. The aim of the scheme (which covers five districts in Maharashtra) is to provide some nutritional cover to pregnant women by granting Rs 800 each to reduce premature birth and malnutrition deaths. The TRTI report published in May this year states that out of an annual programme budget of Rs 272 lakh, almost Rs 72 lakh has been misappropriated (1US$=Rs 48). What's more, it adds, "people, including the beneficiaries, know this is happening".

But, Government officials have standard replies - poverty, ignorance and obstinacy (of the tribals) has led to this situation. They argue that the Korkus have too many children; eat 'unhealthy' food; spend their money on drinking and trust traditional healers more than doctors. The Korkus, spread in about 200 villages, are painted as self-destructive maniacs who cannot be rescued. Government doctors, forest officials and anganwadi (child care centre) workers - all sing the same tune - the Korkus will never change and thus, it is impossible to end their misery.

And even some of the NGOs - there are more than 300 here - repeat the government rhetoric. Dr Ashish Satav of Mahan, an NGO working on health care for tribals, says that the Korkus don't have any nutritional 'sense'. They sell their nutritious food, tur and gram, for cash.

But local people have another story to tell. Rama Maraskule, panchayat member of Khamda village in Melghat, where Mahan works, asks, "Do you think we don't like to eat lentils? We sell them because we have to pay back loans taken from the landlord. We have to pay back the loan (mostly for food and seeds for sowing), whether we eat or not."

Maraskule talks about the 'intellectual aggression' of some of the NGOs. He went to a 'training camp', jointly organised by Mahan and the government, where his community's traditional practices were questioned. "After delivery our women eat forest greens and drink savarya (a local crop) water. I was told this is a wrong custom. The women should be drinking tomato water." Further, "We give decoction of the 'meeri' (a plant) to children suffering from diarrhea. But we were told that they should be given Oral Rehydration Solution."

Forest laws have also played their part in destroying the Korku's indigenous nutrition and livelihood structure. Once Melghat was declared a reserved forest under the Indian Forest Act 1927, the Maharashtra government prohibited the Korku's access to natural nutritional and medicinal plants. The Forest Working Plan for Melghat (1993-2003) required that all creepers and so-called 'inferior species' were to be destroyed in the forest. This instruction, the book says, was given despite previous information from officials in Melghat that a number of the creepers were of 'ethno-medical importance' and were used by the Korkus in treating a variety of ailments.[24]

While the authorities dispense harsh punishment to Korkus found 'stealing' forest produce, they completely ignore the illegal felling of trees, which goes on in the forest.

In 1974, Melghat was declared part of the Project Tiger Scheme. Dr Ravi Kolhe, an independent researcher who has worked extensively in the forests of Amravati district for the past 20 years, says, "There is a deep connection between the tribal economy and minor forest produce. Access to products like mahua (butter tree), tendu leaf and edible gum (dink) is a matter of life and death to the tribals. Since the tiger project began, the government has been methodically snapping the lifeline of the tribals. Today, they can't collect forest produce in large quantities to sell. They can't hunt or fish without bribing the forest officials. This is a direct attack on their self-reliance. The problem has precipitated in the last two years because the forest department banned tendu leaf collection in the 47 villages coming under Project Tiger in 2003".

The introduction of cash crops in recent years has further disrupted the tribal economy. Crops like soybean and cotton have taken over from local crops like kodo, kutki and savarya, which once formed the basis of the tribals' yearlong food security. It is believed that both the government and non-tribal outsiders used the lure of money to encourage tribals to shift to cash crops.

This shift from nutritional self-dependence to cash crop-dependence has important ramifications. The Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) is supposed to procure agricultural produce from the tribals, but this mostly does not happen. Because of the poverty of the tribals and the complexity involved in the ITDP procedures, they are forced to sell their produce to local landlords at abysmal rates. The corrupt ITDP officials also do not hesitate to exploit the tribals who do get to them. The tribals are paid lower rates. When they are really hard up, the tribals barter off their soyabean for food or even sell off standing crops, which the buyer harvests later.

While the authorities dispense harsh punishment to Korkus found 'stealing' forest produce, they completely ignore the illegal felling of trees, which goes on in the forest. The government has also not shown any interest in agricultural reforms in the area. Says Madhukar Mane of Melghat Mitra, an NGO, "Agriculture here is wholly rain fed and water and soil conservation measures are desperately needed to improve it."

Today, pitted against a system that is out to destroy them, the Korkus are isolated, frightened and afraid to voice their demands. Khanu Godu, an elderly resident of village Chichati, chooses his words carefully while articulating this plea, "I am not saying that we want any rights. All we want is to live. If we could collect a little mohua or dink and sell it, or fish and hunt a little, it would have helped in filling our stomachs. But no, we are not saying that we want rights."

8.2. Neglected Health sector in Melghat:
Maharashtra's poor public healthcare and highly skewed distribution of wealth lies at the root of the current crisis highlighted by malnutrition deaths among Adivasis. People cannot forget tribal infants dying because they have no food in their stomachs. Neither do their mothers have food, nor their brothers and sisters.
Death finally comes from catching a chill because the mother has no covering for the child or from malaria or from diarrhea. And the Government goes to great lengths to explain that such deaths are not caused by malnutrition.
Government of Maharashtra came out with the Human Development Report 2002. The report states that despite its status as an advanced State, "compared to other developed states, the overall health sector in Maharashtra is weaker, not having kept pace with its general economic attainments." The bad news does not end there. The report also states that 57.5 per cent of households in rural areas in the State are nutritionally deficient with inadequate calorie intake. "Nearly half the ever-married women, between 15 and 49 suffer from anemia." Worse still "of the children under three years, 76 per cent were also suffering from anemia, the levels being comparatively higher in rural areas." The data in the report have not been disaggregated to present separate data on the tribal districts. If they had, the picture would have been grim.
The survey carried out by SEARCH organization shows 72% percentage of infant mortality rate amongst tribals in Maharashtra. And it has observed that in Maharashtra the highest number of child mortality rate (105%) are in Vidarbha. They have also shows the discrepancy.[25]
Maharashtra's per capita income is one-and-a-half times that of the average for India. Yet according to a World Bank assessment, while the poverty rate in India has declined to 28 per cent (1999-2000), "when compared to other Indian states with comparable per capita income, Maharashtra continues to have a disproportionately higher poverty rate. Despite having the second highest per capita income amongst the 14 major Indian States, Maharashtra has the fifth highest poverty rate." According to this assessment, Maharashtra also has "high levels of inequality."
It is this combination of Maharashtra's low status in the health sector, its high poverty rate, and the highly skewed distribution of wealth that is the real cause of worry. It lies at the root of the current crisis highlighted by the reports on malnutrition deaths.
These child deaths have taken place in this Melghat region has badly performed every developmental parameter — roads, electricity, education, and health infrastructure.
These communities pay the price each year for this pattern of unequal development. The contrast between social indicators for the rest of the State and for these tribal pockets in Maharashtra is nothing short of scandalous. For instance, according to data from the Public Health Department, while the infant mortality rate is 48 per 1000 live births in the State, it is 110 among the tribals. The Government, of course, refuses to accept this and continues to blame infant deaths on a variety of factors including illiteracy and early marriage. It is impossible to ensure that the benefits of development actually reach the people most in need of them.
In Melghat, for instance, subject of the recent reports in this paper of malnutrition deaths, 19 tribal villages are being displaced for the tiger sanctuary. Displacement has forced Adivasis to leave their villages in search of work. Usually only the men migrate. The women and children are left behind to fend for themselves. The Government's response is new programmes. Thus, children are supposed to get cooked food in the anganwadi, there are mobile units and wireless sets to bring speedy medical aid and there is an effort to improve the supply of medicines and medical personnel. Some of this has been done in Maharashtra.
Yet money alone has not worked in motivating doctors to work in remote tribal areas. Here even if the Government provides primary health centers and rural hospitals, there are no doctors.
A recent study on the status of health care in three Maharashtra districts by the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) found that almost half the PHCs had no doctor, 75 per cent did not have medicines and only 18 per cent had ambulances.
Even if the PHCs had ambulances, 40 per cent had no driver. In rural hospitals, one step up from the PHC, which are supposed to provide specialist care, only 20 per cent had paediatricians and just one third had anaesthetists. Only two out of the 19 rural hospitals surveyed could perform an operation.
However, even if the public health system were adequate, it would not be enough. It is a medical solution for an economic problem. If you remove people from their source of sustenance, you must provide them with an alternative.
Medical intervention can save lives but they cannot deal with generational nutritional deficiencies, where low birth weight babies grow into emaciated and underfed mothers who then produce low birth weight babies. It is a cycle that cannot be broken by medicines alone.

The crisis is one of absence of livelihood choices is too severe. Adivasis in all these districts live in forested areas. They have cultivated forestland and lived off forest produce. But these forests are either being denuded or diverted for "other purposes." What remains of the forests has been reserved and protected by Government decree. The forests are important for humankind as a whole and not just for those who live in forests goes the argument. These people can be resettled elsewhere in the interests of preserving forests. It is this basic premise that has resulted in the dislocation of the lives of millions of tribal communities throughout India. In Melghat, the situation has been acute. And the restriction on cultivation of land and collection of minor forest produce creating their life miserable and which is resulting into the deaths and reducing their populations.
Here the role of state is crucial in protection of rights of Adivasis enshrined in the constitution of India. The private players in credit, market and resource management will be more exploitative. The state must recognize that without the active participation of Adivasis, forest protection is impossible. This will happen if their basic needs are given adequate attention by giving there due share or equal rights. It demands greater genuine community forest protection initiative through Gram Sabha unlike dominated Joint Forest Management (JFM). The state sponsored cooperatives of landless Adivasis should be set up for the processing and marketing of various non-timber forest produce. The resettlement and rehabilitation must be done in accordance with legal norms without violating their human rights.
The national international covenants and laws on social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights of these indigenous people are grossly violated. Government must provide proposed rehabilitation package before evicting them from their land. The more people oriented plans and policies need to be implemented in the right spirit. The government must record all kinds of child deaths and use the social autopsy and path analysis methods in observing death patterns. As per survey findings, 80% of the deaths are due to low birth weight of infants; the pregnant women’s health and nutrition must be taken care of in government schemes. The most important is government must encourage an interface with NGOs and promote research and action groups in the region through people’s participation and decentralization of power.


Shila Barse,“ Our children are Gone” Neergurav Publication.

Stephen Fuchs, 'The Korkus of Vindhya Hills’, Published by Inter-India Publications, New Delhi

Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995.

N.P. Bhanage(1993) ‘Tribal Commissions and Committees in India’, Himalaya publishing House, Delhi
Shri. Bhagwan ; ‘Glimpses of Melghat’, Tribal Research Training Institute, Pune.

‘Call to cancel de-notification order on Melghat tiger reserve’, Times of India, Bombay edition, dated 2nd November 1999.

Kirpekar, C.S.; Assessment Report, ‘Project Tiger Melghat’ 1974-1994, Vidharbha Natural History study Centre, Nagpur.

Government of Maharashtra notifications on Wild life Protection Act 1972.

Deshonnati dt. 07.08.2001(News daily); ‘Melghatatil Bori Gavache Kautuk, keval Ardhasatya’ and The Village Rehabilitation Committee meeting report from Melghat.

WV.Grigson I.C.S. (1944), “ The aboriginal problem in the central Provinces of Berar”. Government of central Provinces & Berar.
Sanjay Anand, Smitu Kothari; Minor Forest Produce and Community Control over Natural Resources under Adivais Self Rule, Lokayan Project on Implementing PESA.

“‘Kovli Pangal’, Each year two lakh deaths in Maharashtra”, a report by Child Mortality Study and Action Group, Maharashtra.

7th five-year plan for 1992-1997, Government of India.

Darrell A. Posey et. Al; Traditional Resource Rights, IUCN The World Conservation Union Publication Unit, Cambridge, UK.

D.D. Basu(1994); Shorter Constitution of India, 11th ed., Prantice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘http://www.unhchr.ch/html/intlinst.htm’, Accessed on 09.11.2004.

ANNEXURE I: Amravati District
(Source: Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995.)

ANNEXURE II: Chikhadara Tahsil of Amravati District
(Source: Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995.)
ANNEXURE III : Project Tiger Melghat

(Source: Kirpekar, C.S.; Assessment Report, ‘Project Tiger Melghat’ 1974-1994, Vidharbha Natural History study Centre, Nagpur.)

ANNEXURE IV : Villages under Buffer Zone

(Source: Kirpekar, C.S.; Assessment Report, ‘Project Tiger Melghat’ 1974-1994, Vidharbha Natural History study Centre, Nagpur.)

[1] “‘Kovli Pangal’, Each year two lakh deaths in Maharashtra”, a report by Child Mortality Study and Action Group, Maharashtra.
[2] Korku tribe is comprised of the majority of the population in the region.
[3] Shila Barse, “ Our children are Gone” Neergurav Publication
[4] 7th five-year plan for 1992-1997, Government of India.
[5] Local Committee established for the rehabilitation
[6] These facts are people and NGOs representative’s statements.

[7] Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995
[8] Fuchs, Stephen (1986); The Korkus of Vindhya Hills, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi
[9] 5 and 28 villages respectively of Dharni and Chikhaldara are uninhabited villages according to the 1991 census.
[10] Shri. Bhagwan ; ‘Glimpses of Melghat’, Tribal Research Training Institute, Pune.
[11]Census of India 1991, Series14 Maharashtra part XII- A & B, district Census Handbook Amravati, Village & Town Directory, Maharashtra census Directorate, Government Central Press, Mumbai, 1995
[12] Shri. Bhagwan ; ‘Glimpses of Melghat’, Tribal Research Training Institute, Pune.
[13] ‘Call to cancel de-notification order on Melghat tiger reserve’, Times of India, Bombay edition, dated 2nd November 1999.
[14] Kirpekar, C.S.; Assessment Report, ‘Project Tiger Melghat’ 1974-1994, VNHS, Nagpur.
[15] Government of Maharashtra notifications.
[16] Shri. Bhagwan ; ‘Glimpses of Melghat’, Tribal Research Training Institute, Pune.

[17] Deshonnati dt. 07.08.2001(News daily); ‘Melghatatil Bori Gavache Kautuk, keval Ardhasatya’ and The Village Rehabilitation Committee meeting report from Melghat.
[18] Fuchs, Stephen (1986); The Korkus of Vindhya Hills, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi
[19] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘http://www.unhchr.ch/html/intlinst.htm’, Accessed on 09.11.2004..
[20] Shila Barse; Our children are Gone, Neergurav Publication (For the year 1891,1901,1911,1921,1931,1951, ref. WV.Grigson I.C.S., “ The aboriginal problem in the central Provinces of Berar”. Government of central Provinces & Berar, 1944

[21] Sanjay Anand, Smitu Kothari; Minor Forest Produce and Community Control over Natural Resources under Adivais Self Rule, Lokayan Project on Implementing PESA.
[22] Excerpts are taken from views of NGOs and people in the Melghat Region.
[23]News clippings from Deshhonnati and Indian Express
[24] by Shila Barse,“ Our children are Gone” Neergurav Publication.

[25] “ ‘Kovli Pangal’, Each year two lakh deaths in Maharashtra”.


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