Indian officials are distributing certificates that grant the Paliyans permission to use their forests—and in the process gaining publicity in The Hindu, one of India’s premier newspapers.

The Sirumalai hills in the Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu
The Sirumalai hills in the Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu (Photo by Kmurugesan in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

According to an article in the paper on April 12th, T.G. Vinay, the District Collector (a high-ranking official) for the Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu, held a special meeting for the Paliyan living in the Sirumalai Hills to the south of Dindigul City. The meeting was held in the village of Thalakadai on April 11th. In addition to giving forest use certificates to 18 tribal people, he handed out old age pensions, widows pensions, eye glasses, and other forms of welfare to 50 beneficiaries.

Less than a month before, officials had distributed forest rights certificates to other Paliyans in K.C. Patti Panchayat as well as to people in Sirumalai and other villages. In his speech to the gathering in Thalakadai, Mr. Vinay said that requests had been sent to the appropriate government officials to improve the infrastructure for the tribal villages in the Sirumalai Hills. He promised his listeners that they would be getting road improvements and basic sanitary facilities in their communities, such as drinking water and toilets.

A Paliyan family near a Murugan Temple in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu
A Paliyan family near a Murugan Temple in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu (Photo courtesy of Steven Bonta)

He said that a proposal for bringing electricity to Thalakadai costing Rs. 1.10 crore ($US 165,000) had already been forwarded to other government offices. In order to lay an underground cable that would supply electricity to the community, permission would need to be obtained from the Forest Department. The Collector assured his listeners that clearance from that department would come soon.

A news story in The Hindu two years ago reported on similar issues in the same village, Thalakadai. According to that story, a local politician, R. Viswanathan, had promised the villagers electric power when he ran for a seat in the Assembly in 2011. That news report quoted the complaints of a farm laborer, K. Velmurugan, that the village school children have to do their homework under kerosene lanterns at night—and the kerosene is expensive to purchase in the local shops. In essence, everything in the village comes to a halt at dusk.

A thermal power station in Tamil Nadu
A thermal power station in Tamil Nadu (Photo by NLC India Ltd in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The article mentioned that other tribal communities in the Sirumalai Hills had already been electrified. In one of them, Thenmalai, the people had given up hope of ever getting power when the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) was suddenly able to get the necessary permissions and complete laying electric cables into the village—just before an announcement was made of upcoming assembly elections.

According to the news story from early March 2016, the people in Thalakadai are also left behind when it comes to health care. Because it is 30 km. to the hospital in Dindigul, and there is no bus service into the village, pregnant women usually take rooms in Dindigul when they approach their delivery dates so they will be near a health care facility when they need it. For most of their routine health needs, the Paliyan in the Sirumalai Hills rely on a village health nurse.

Readers of The Hindu can only hope that the Paliyans in the Sirumalai Hills will get their fair share of infrastructure improvements from their government officials over the next two years—and that the paper will provide a more upbeat progress report in 2020.