BILIGIRI RANGANA HILLS (BR HILLS), KARNATAKA INTEGRATED TRIBAL DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
BR Hills located in south-eastern Karnataka is at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats and is a protected reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and also declared a Tiger Reserve in December 2010. This region has been the home for the Soliga Tribe for hundreds of years. VGKK has been in BR Hills for the past thirty years striving for the integrated development of the Soligas.
Health care, specifically curative medical care has been chief entry point of VGKK into the Soliga community. Even in this regard, it was a hard struggle to gain acceptance. Along the way several dramatic cures helped increase his acceptance.
The facilities provided by VGKK for the rural and the tribal population in Chamarajanagar
District in the healthcare sector are:
Vivekananda Tribal Hospital at BR Hills
VGKK School is unique in several ways – it is a combination of the Soliga Ethos and the Modern Education.
The First Generation Learners
The fortunate six boys from the Soliga Community were taught by Dr. Sudarshan in his hut way back in 1980s. They were taught environmental science, culture, life skill, traditional knowledge imparting scientific temperament into them. They have further graduated and pursuing post graduation and doctorates.
In tune with the Gurukula system of education of ancient India, the teachers live inside the VGKK campus with the children. Imparting education to the tribal children has evolved in a wonderful way over a period of time. From a non-formal school in a hut with six children to a concrete building with about 500 tribal children as on date with all amenities, the VGKK School caters till 10th standard. Some of the tribal students have gone on to pursue advance degrees from reputable universities upon completion of their studies.
A single textbook is designed in their dialect (Soliga Nudi) scripted in Kannada to teach their language. The teachers are so skilled they teach concepts of language, environmental science and mathematics together through these text books. Currently being taught for I and II C1ass students.
Expanding their horizons…..
ANM Training was being given in Mysore exclusively only for tribal women and deploy them in tribal areas of work. Now VGKK is equipped to provide training in its own campus for both tribal and non-tribal women and deploy them in PHCs managed by Karuna Trust
Vocational Training & Production Centre
The Need The forest would not suffice to meet the needs of the growing population and therefore, there was a need to create alternative employment, develop income-generating skills and create self-reliant communities within the forests. Hence a vocational training scheme has been envisaged.
Training and Support
The Training centre was started in 1997 with the help of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Bangalore to help rural and tribal youth to gain self-employment.
In order to ensure livelihood security, VGKK imparts training in over 16 different crafts to the tribal youth and this training in instrumental in inculcating a sense of pride and discipline in their abilities.
A unique product of a non-timber forest produce is rolled out from this Centre and marketed – Furniture made of Lantana, a weed and not wood thus promoting biodiversity conservation
Furniture making in process from the Lantana Weed
Empowerment through Community Organization & Networking
Aside from the basic needs of health and education, VGKK creates a support network for the tribal communities through, youth groups, sanghas (people’s organizations) and women’s Self Help Groups. The community groups have curbed government exploitation and produced conferences and committees to strengthen community rights
The struggle for land distribution and community rights have come a long way and has been fruitful. Landmark events have been made possible by providing Land Entitlements to families in BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and MM Hills Reserve Forest and few are awaited. Community Forest Rights have been awarded that includes access and ownership of non-timber forest produce, fishing, grazing, cultural practice and rights to conserve and manage the forest.
The Soliga Abhivriddi Sanghas (SASs) have opened offices at the Taluka level and form the hard core functionary units. The Taluk and District Federations steer the tribal development. This strong network and solidarity backed by VGKK have made their voices heard by the policy makers and authorities.
The Struggle of the Soligas for the Forest Rights
Biodiversity and Livelihoods
We firmly believe that Biodiversity and Livelihood are mutually inclusive. Collection of Non Timber will not affect biodiversity and livelihood is taken care in and promoted.
The forests of BR Hills are home to rare medicinal plants as well to the Indian elephant, gaur, sambar, chital and the four horned antelope. Also found are tiger, leopard, sloth bear. Forest fires were a major hazard.
Prevention of forest fires
The forest department and VGKK together have educated young tribal leaders and community in conservation. The Forest Department pays incentives to the community for prevention of forest fires.
Prevention of Soil Erosion
Water Shed programme is initiated to prevent soil erosion and this initiative is being supported by NABARD
Stoppage of Quarrying
VGKK has been instrumental in stopping of granite quarrying in BR Hills region and maintain ecological balance
Organic farming is promoted extensively through farmer groups, campaigns, manuals, recharge of borewell, basket compost, vermi compost, seed banks and water conservation
VGKK believes in preservation and promotion of perfect harmony with the nature and the ethos of the Soliga tribes. It facilitates marketing of Non-Timber Forest Produce -honey, amla, soap nut powder, spices and lantana furniture. Rare medicinal plants are identified by Ethnobotanical survey which is used in Ayurveda and Siddha preparations.