They live in Mumbai’s backyard but lead a life far removed from all the markings of city life.
More than 1,500 tribals living at the fringes of Sanjay Gandhi National Park are geographically in the city, but live without access to health facilities, electricity, proper water supply and education.
There’s a more immediate problem at hand now. A contagious skin infection has spread among tribals, particularly in parts where malnutrition is rampant.
Almost every child from the tribal hamlets of Chunapada and Navapada is suffering from scabies. Every second family in Chunapada, which has about 50 families, has at least one member suffering from scabies.
Officials from the civic body’s health department, the forest department and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) are passing the buck.
Scabies is a skin infection that causes small itchy bumps and blisters due to tiny mites that burrow into the top layer of human skin to lay their eggs.
The burrows sometimes appear as short, wavy, reddish. It is contagious disease and usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact or through sexual contact with an infected person.
Jeeva Dhule (70) has black spots all over his body since two years, which continuously itch leaving scars all over his body.
“I don’t know how these spots have come out all over the body especially on my fingers, stomach and legs,” said Krishna Dhune (38), who suffers from similar symptoms. “It itches badly and sometimes blood oozes out.”
Men from these hamlets generally work as daily wage labourers in nearby construction sites. “We have never had a bank account in our family,” said Dhune.
“Doctors (usually linked to NGOs) who come here give temporary solutions. And after their creams are over we can’t buy new ones,” said Sangeeta Pudwale (85), whose
grandson died of malnutrition last year.
“Four months ago we held a health camp for tribals and distributed medicines,” said chairman of BMC’s health committee, Shubhada Gudekar.
She said the forest department turned down a civic proposal to set up a permanent health centre there.
Forest department officials insist rehabilitating tribals is the key.
“This park is for animals and not humans. We have been trying to rehabilitate these families but they don’t want to go out,” said P.N. Munde, conservator of forests and director of the park.
“If the BMC is interested in their health, (civic officials should) visit the forest every week, educate the people and give them medicines, but that kind of initiative is clearly lacking,” he added.
Officials from the ICDS said unhygienic conditions were to blame for the disease. “Also, we need to counsel the tribes, especially their leaders,” said Deputy Commissioner (ICDS) M. Maulwane. “They often resist modern medicines.”