Someone just covered the failure of the health system and unspent welfare funds in Chhindwara!

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Its always exciting to see news from your hometown in the national media. But more often than not, in case of Chhindwara, its for all the bad reasons. Last time when the district got some coverage in the national media, it was about the gang-rape of a 15 years old adivasi girl with disabilities and how the police and administration failed to do their job to ensure justice.

This time, it is about how the health system has failed the adivasis. Writing about how the welfare funds meant for dalit and tribals have been unspent for years, the article reports on the conditions of poverty, lack of basic facilities such as electricity and roads, and  difficulty in accessing healthcare in villages of Pachkol and Jad, in Tamia block of Chhindwara.

Jad is one of the villages that are part of the Patalkot valley. Until recently, the villages inside the valley were inaccessible by road and the only way to reach there was the long walk on the dangerously mountaneous paths. I worked in one of the villages of the valley, Chimptipur, in 2014, for my MA dissertation. Life is difficult there, to say the least.

From Chimtipur, which was the first village in the valley in terms of geography and thus closer to the main road than the others, the nearsest PHC was at least 7 kms away at Chhindi, the small market town that catered to all the 13 villages of the valley . And without fail, that PHC remained shut. The only option that the villagers had was to see the ‘Bengali doctors’ and the ‘Jholachhaps’. They had opened their ‘clinics’ in the market where they saw patients and even administered IV on the benches. It was a profitable business: they charged between 50 to 100 Rs as consulting fee and sold medicines they had prescribed themselves. Many of them were in fact medical representatives turned doctors. People also seemed to think that since these medicines cost more, they would be more effective than the ones they got from the PHC for free, if at all it remained open.

Interestingly, Patalkot is home to a rich traditional health knowledge system. Some of the rarest medicinal plants are found in the valley and used for traditional herbal preparations. This has made Patalkot a site of curiosity among scientists, media and general public at large.

The valley also has a large population of the Bharias- a purticularly vulnerable tribal group, in whose name a lot funding comes but never really reaches them, as the article also points out. On top of that, the government has begun an annual adevnture tourism festival to incash the scenic beauty and tribal idenity of the valley, in the name of boosting local economy and providing employment. However, till 2014, not one person from Chimtipur had been provided any employment, nor had any other benefit from the festival reached the locals.

Instead of such grand plans, if only the government could focus on ensuring the basic rights that the adivasis are entiled to, things would have been much better!