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Thursday, 31 August 2017

Save Kodagu, Save Kaveri

Save Kodagu, Save Kaveri

A double-event at Kutta, Kodagu and Town Hall Bangalore raises eye brows in environmental and political circles. The event was held to protest against the eco-destructive railway & highway projects set to enter Kodagu.

A new railway line from Mysore to Kushalnagar has been proposed since long by the government. This is being considered for extension through Kodagu to Madikeri and further south into Kerala. The existing roads in Kodagu are also being considered for widening into highways. Ensuring more connectivity between Kerala and Karnataka via Kodagu would result in rampant cutting down of trees.

Urbanisation is causing forests and coffee estates to be cleared and new residential layouts are coming up in Kodagu. Deforestation will cause the Kaveri, the lifeline of the people of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, to eventually dry up. It already dries up for two months in a year. The government policy on development projects will lead to drinking water problems in Bangalore. Local communities will be displaced. Illegal sand mining is one more serious issue in Kodagu, which is killing the rivers here. The Lakshmanateertha, which is just a few puddles in summer, is a sad example of this trend.

Environmentalists claim that Kodagu is the water tank of Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and Tamil Nadu, and that every tree cut here robs some citizens of their fundamental right to water.

On 26th August the “Save Kodagu, Save Kaveri” campaign took place. Many people gathered at Ponnampet and marched towards Kutta. They were led by Col. C. P. Muthanna the President of the Coorg Wildlife Society. Environmentalist Pattamada Sundar Muthanna had started an online petition to gather support for the cause. Until the day before the proposed meeting, some of the people were undecided about whether to attend it or not. However, a large crowd gathered in the morning at 10.00 on D-day.

A parallel protest was organised at the entrance of the Town Hall in Bangalore at 10.00 am on the same day. But not more than 50 people attended the Bangalore event. They were Kodavas and people from different environmental organisations. Arun Prasad was responsible for organizing the Bangalore event. The protesters held placards and passionately shouted slogans to save trees, Kodagu, the Western Ghats and the Kaveri.

Green activist Sundar Muthanna, golf coach Nikki Ponnappa, Kandrathanda Robin founder of Coorg Economic Council, Gummatira Kishoo Uthappa of Kodavaclan, Entrepreneur Codanda Devika Devaiah, Western Ghats activist Sahadev from Chikkamagaluru, youth leader Prathik Ponnanna and others were part of the event.

The small community of Kodagu is divided by politics. Its individuals are aligned according to their loyalty to the national parties, the BJP and the Congress, and likewise to the local organisations, the Codava National Council and the United Kodava Organisation. During the protest in Kodagu, a few people were upset when Manju Kokkalemada, the UKO head, spoke in favour of the Kasturirangan report. A road block was setup at T. Shettigeri village to stop the procession so that locals could air their opinions and fears.

The Kasturirangan report was intended to create a balance between economic activities and environmental conservation in the Western Ghats. It was meant to stop industrial and other commercial activities, such as sand mining, in the forest zones and not small farmers from pursuing their profession. According to the report, some buffer areas of 1 km width around forest areas in the Western Ghats have been tagged as Ecologically-Sensitive Zone. Unverified claims are being made that the people living in such buffer zones will be moved to other locations. Going by the stipulations of the Report, this is completely untrue. Since locals value their firearms as part and parcel of their martial culture, they are being told by vested interests that weapon ownership will not be permitted. It is the responsibility of the Govt to clarify such issues.

Some farmers, from remote villages such as Birunani, have only agriculture to depend upon and have never lived outside Kodagu. They want ‘development’ because this means better road access to them which would make their lives more bearable. To them, the implementation of the Kasturirangan Report means losing their farmlands and the sole profession they know. So they find the creation of a highway more favourable than the implementation of the report.

Because environmental protests held in 2014-15 to stop the high-tension power line to Kerala, could not stop the cutting of 50,000 plus trees, some people argue that protests will not stop the government or large companies from clearing forests. They believe that local politicians are involved in the timber business and in looting the forest wealth. It is the small landowners, several farmers who own a few acres of land each, who actually suffer eventually.

- Mookonda Poonacha 'Nitin' Kushalappa