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Thursday, August 16, 2012

No school for children in proposed tiger reserve

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.57AM IST COIMBATORE: The dream of a proper school for tribal children will remain unfulfilled in Ukkiniyam village as permission for constructing a building has been denied by the forest department on the ground that it would be within the proposed Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve area. So, despite the Tamil Nadu government sanctioning 16lakhs for constructing the school building, it will remain only on paper. This has belied the claims of the forest department that it will exclude forest settlements and revenue villages from the core area of the reserve. As a result, 150 tribal children have been denied their right to education. Ukkiniyam is a hamlet in the jurisdiction of the Kuthiyalathur village panchayat. Significantly, the state government had sanctioned 16,05,000 for constructing the building under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ( SSA) project just three months ago. According to V Mohan Kumar, a parent, Ukkiniyam is a forest village falling under Bhavani Sagar assembly constituency and one can access the nearby state highway only by walking through the dense forest for four kilometers. The village with Irula and soliga tribals is devoid of any basic facilities and the local community was illiterate. There are around 250 families in the village and their livelihood is collecting minor forest produce. They also help forest department in protection initiatives and the village never posed any threat to the wildlife. It was in 2005 that the primary school was started in the village under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and that was the first occasion when literacy came to the village. The illiterate villagers had built a makeshift shed for the school using their own resources and it reflected their keenness to ensure literacy for their wards. During the recent rains, the makeshift building collapsed and the children are now learning lessons by sitting on the open ground. As the region is famous for unexpected downpours, it has been becoming risky for the children and the teachers to continue the education exposed to inclement weather. The situation would turn worse with the onset of North East Monsoon. Meanwhile, many parents have stopped sending their children to the school citing lack of buildings. When Bhavani Sagar MLA, P L Sundaram, raised the issue before district collector and education department officials, they said the objection from forest department is preventing execution of the building project. Talking to TOI, Sundaram said he would even adopt legal means to ensure basic justice for the tribal children, who were just initiated to the world of literacy hardly seven years ago. Forest Department had recently prevented a local body in the region from conducting repair of a road to a forest settlement but the locals had conducted the repair works defying the orders.

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