Monday, March 11, 2013

Finally, forest dept lets tribals construct school building

Finally, forest dept lets tribals construct school building

K A Shaji, TNN Aug 29, 2012, 05.51AM IST

COIMBATORE: Two tribal schools located inside the proposed Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve would get permanent buildings soon as the forest department has backtracked from its earlier stand that new construction will not be allowed in the former Veerappan lair. Sathyamangalam divisional forest officer N Sathish told TOI that permission has been granted to erect permanent buildings for Ukkiniyam and Nagalur tribal schools, which come under Kuthiyalathur village panchayat.
TOI had reported two weeks ago about the tragic situation of students of tribal villages under the Bhavani Sagar assembly constituency being denied decent education in the name of tiger conservation. Funds allocated by the state government under Sarva Siksha Abhiayan (SSA) scheme to build buildings had remained unutilized as the forest department refused consent. TOI report along with Bhavani Sagar MLA P L Sundaram's efforts has now forced the department to approve of the school building plan.

According to Sathish, permission has been granted under Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, which permits construction of public utility buildings like schools, dispensaries and drinking water projects in forest areas. According to Sundaram, the decision is a major victory for the adivasis of the region, who have been protesting the move to set up a tiger reserve in the region.
In the case of Ukkiniam School, Tamil Nadu government had sanctioned Rs 16 lakh for the construction of the building and Rs 11 lakh has been sanctioned for Nagalur. The delay in getting sanction from the forest department had irked the locals as they believed it belied the tall claims of forest department that it will exclude forest settlements and revenue villages from the core area of the reserve. There are over 150 students in Ukkiniyam whereas 102 children attend the Nagalur school.
According to V Mohan Kumar, a parent, Ukkiniyam and Nagalur are forest villages. The state highway can be accessed only after a six-km long walk. Home to Irula and Soliga people, these villages lack basic facilities. Few in the community know to read and write. There are around 250 families in both the villages and their livelihood is the collection and sale of minor forest produce. They also help forest department in conservation activities.
It was in 2005 that the primary school was started in Ukkiniyam village under SSA. The villagers had built a makeshift shed for the school using their own resources. The makeshift building collapsed in the recent rains.

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