Ultimately, the herb Chakunda was made responsible for mass death of tribal children in Malkangiri district by an expert committee employed by the Government of India.
The Chakunda, which is made responsible for such causalities, is an annual herb which is a tropical and sub-tropical species found throughout India right from sea shore to foot hills of the Himalayas.
Most of the species of the Chakunda family are having medicinal properties. So the herb is very popular in the tropical region.
Particularly, the plant has several medicinal properties like the leaves having the value of laxative, seed used to treat skin diseases,ring worm and itching. The root is used to treat snake bite. The whole plant yields pleasant smelling oil. This species is found throughout India as weed.
The writer is a retired forest officer and knows the species by heart. The people of rural India and tribal lands usually use the succulent leaves of the plant as leafy vegetable. The cattle also use the succulent leaves as fodder. Nowhere has the writer heard that the species is harmful in his long service tenure in the Forest department. For the first time, the writer hears that the species is responsible for large scale death of children in tribal lands of undivided Koraput.
But the people of this locality, where the children are victimized for the reasons not known yet, are not convinced on the findings of technical team. Since the species is prohibited for the use by people, the death toll is going on. Now the figure has reached about 121. It is heartening to find that the anti-insurgency forces deployed in Malkangiri are doing a yeoman’s service. The employees of the Central Government proved their worthiness by managing hygiene in tribal lands; besides their normal task. At the outset, these aboriginal people were afraid of the Central forces and were non-cooperating. But at present, things have changed and these aboriginal tribes trust the forces.
The writer served most part of his service in tribal land and personally experienced the behavioral attitude of Government employees, especially of State police personnel, towards the common man in tribal lands. However, it is praiseworthy that, the forces have undertaken a great social task at this juncture, when the children are dying like flies. There are strong reasons to believe that hygiene plays a major role for spread of the disease in the tribal land.
Sources reveal that the seeds of cassia (Chakunda) plants are mixed with pulses and sold to tribal people in tribal zones of Odisha and elsewhere by the unscrupulous traders; and dealers of the localities.
It is possible. In tribal lands the bartering of articles, especially of food grains in exchange of minor forest produces and other agricultural products of the locality, is going on till today by the unscrupulous business community with the very knowledge of local administration. Mung (green grams) and black grams (Biri) are the pulses generally used by the people of these areas in their everyday lives. The unscrupulous traders always try to cheat these poor illiterate people to the best. Chakunda is a legume and the black gram and the green gram are of same category. So it is very easy to adulterate the seeds of Chakunda plant with the pulses of green grams and black grams. These are all annual herbs and can grow in every type of soil. The cassia plants are widely found in nature and easily available for adulterations. The size of seeds of these species is almost equal. So the adulteration of pulses cannot be ruled out. The administration should be alert to book the unscrupulous traders, who are poisoning the food grains. It should also take appropriate steps to prevent bartering of grains. Poverty and education are the major problems in the area. At present the demonetization has become a major problem for these innocent people for getting their daily needs. So the bartering of goods in this region becomes more prevalent for the subsistence of these people. The State Government should take adequate measures to stop this practice and ensure easy and timely availability of daily rations to the people. Similarly, cash in lower and smaller denominations should be available to these people for getting their day- to- day needs.
During 1986-87, the writer had been to Titilagarh with the students of Forest College, Angul for a practical study tour to Balangir teak forests and other forest units of southern districts. He came across huge collections of “Vanatualshi” seed bags stored in Titilagarh railway station for dispatch to outside. On inquiry, it was revealed that these seeds were adulterated with other oil seeds in oil mills to produce edible oil for human beings. The seeds of “Vanatualshi” yields oil. Balangir like Kalahandi and Koraput is a large producer of Vanatulashi species. The species comes as weeds in the barren hillocks of these areas. This is an annual herb like Chakunda, which is being adulterated with pulses. Again, the people of tribal lands do not believe in growing agro species through the application of chemical fertilizers. They believe in farm yard manures and mostly, in organic manures. So the agricultural productions of these areas have wider market throughout the State and country and abroad. The Tribal Development Co-Operation (TDCC) is working throughout the State to protect the interests of the tribal people and promote the commerce of forest and agro products.
(The writer is a former senior forest officer and an environmentalist. Tel no 9937460649)