The newly-laid roads are the harbingers of change in the Jawadhu Hills now.
“A total of 120 km single-lane roads were laid at a cost of Rs 20 crore from 2014,” according to DRDA assistant engineer R Tamil Selvan, based in Jamunamarudur, HQ of the Jawadhu Hills panchayat union in the district.
Once the roads were laid, power poles and other facilities soon followed. Jackfruits which grow naturally were given to visitors once as there was no market for them. “Roads ensured that traders from Koyambedu in Chennai send mini trucks to get the produce,” says former Nammiampattu village panchayat president K Sallan.
Tribals were used to raising Samai (little millets or Panicum Sumatrense in technical parlance) but the creation of dug-wells in 48 locations at a cost of Rs 12 lakh each has resulted in the cropping pattern in the hills changing. “Tribals now raise paddy due to the availability of water,” says former Jawadhu Hills panchayat union chairman K Rajamanickam. “The dug-well at Nammiampattu is built in such a way to harvest available water and it now caters to standing paddy crop in nearly five acres,” says Tamil Selvan.
Thanks to the initiative of Collector KS Kandasamy, construction of check dams has resulted in water being available, “allowing tribals to harvest two crops now instead of the earlier single crop,” Sallan added.
Roads also resulted in schools, arts colleges and polytechnics from Polur sending their vans to collect students. Though there is a panchayat union primary school at Kondathur in the same PU, it has a strength of eight with two teachers including the headmaster. When asked why they were sending their children to private schools when a government school was available in the locality, tribals just grin.
A bridge built across Kamandala Mahanadhi river has ensured this access as earlier rain would result in locals being unable to cross over to the other side. “The demand now is for an increase in the 1% ST reservation as this is not enough to meet the increasing demand of tribals who are classified as “Hindu Malayali” when being issued community certificates,” says Rajamanickam. Tribals now boast of engineers, doctors and even a DRO from their clan working in the plains.
But roads were not laid without issues. “In many locations, tribals resisted as it meant removing coconut trees. The steep road leading to Konerikudisai had to be blasted with explosives and today autos, cars and two-wheelers whiz through this stretch.
While proposals have been submitted for another 128 km at an estimated cost of Rs 60 crore, most such roads are in reserve forest areas and hence needs Central government clearance which takes time. The new roads include mud road when crossing forest areas. “If roads are laid connecting Pattan koliyur, Puthakarai, Periaveli, Parviri, Peenkadu and Manjuthu to Polur from Nammiampattu, it will ensure easy access to the plains,” officials averred.
However, roads also resulted in other ‘effects.’ The habitations controlled by “Oor goundars” (traditional tribal headman) have issued dictats prohibiting liquor consumption in the hamlets. “Even talking of drinking is taboo in the hamlet,” say Chandra and Mallika of Peria Veerapattu. Those wanting to indulge have to trek to the Tasmac at Nammiampattu which once was the top liquor revenue grosser for the area.
Though Nammiampattu has a mobile tower, a private telecom operator provides only 2G net services and so locals have appealed to the Collector to provide 4G services. “The lone mobile tower serves the 108 Ambulance parked in the area and is used to shift serious patients to the Vellore Government Medical College Hospital.
However, locals are all praise for the Nammiampattu PHC which has doctors round-the-clock and provides good treatment. When this reporter asked doctors what mainly ailed tribals, he said “most suffer from hypertension caused by excessive drinking. Many are also diabetic and suffer from respiratory tract infections”.
“Tribals from Peenjamandai and Jardankollai villages in Anaicut panchayat union in Vellore district also prefer the Nammiampattu PHC as it is closer despite lacking a good road compared to the Odugathur PHC, which is nearly 30 km away,” said Murugan of Kondathur. “Earlier, tribals from Konerikudisai had to trek to the Nammiampattu ration shop for their needs, but the new road has led to another shop being opened at Chinna Veerapattu,” Sallan said.