Interview with national commission for scheduled tribes chairperson Rameshwar Oraon
Archana Mishra | October 22, 2016 | New Delhi
The death of more than 200 tribal children in Palghar this year once again highlights the deep-rooted problem of malnutrition among children, especially the tribal ones. Most tribal children go to ashram schools – residential schools opened in tribal-dominated regions by the state and the ministry of tribal affairs, for providing education and free meals to kids. These schools are supposed to give drinking water, food, health and toilet facilities, but seem to have failed in serving their purpose. The national commission for scheduled tribes chairperson Rameshwar Oraon talks to Archana Mishra about the situation on ground.
What all problems exist in these ashram schools?
Various problems exist in these ashram schools. Kids don’t get good quality food. They have to sleep on the ground. Leave alone furniture, there is no khaat, not even thin mattresses. I have visited these schools in Odisha, Jharkhand and the southern states and there has hardly been any improvement. Children from the tribal regions go to ashram schools for education and food. But there is no check on the quality of education and food provided here. Since these schools are located in forest areas and on mountains, they lack proper medical facilities. So, children die not only due to malnutrition but also because of lack of treatment facilities for malaria or snake bite.
Why has the ministry of tribal affairs failed in improving the situation of these schools?
It [an ashram school] is running for the sake of education. No denying, education is also poor here. We are running it for it is the only institution for growing kids in tribal belts. But not all tribal-dominated states are running the schools in a deplorable condition. Recently, I visited ashram schools in Karnataka. They have improved over the years. Every month the tribal population is getting additional nutritional food packets other than the food distributed through the public distribution system [PDS]. We spoke to them [children] and they were satisfied with what they were getting. Schools in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are trying to improve the basic infrastructure.
After Palghar, the national human rights commission (NHRC) sent a notice to the Madhya Pradesh government over reported deaths of 116 children due to malnutrition in Sheopur district. Why is there a sudden spurt in the numbers?
It is not sudden. Deaths were happening before. Almost a month ago, 19 malnutrition deaths were reported in Odisha. The problems still exist in states. You can notice them now because they are being reported in the media. We are getting aware because malnutrition as an issue is now being highlighted in the public sphere.
What is the role of the ST commission in such cases?
States governments are asked to send a report and we further send it to the ministry. Our job is to give state governments advice on expediting the process of improving the condition.
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