For the nature-worshipping and revering indigenous people of Kodagu, the recent devastation across the district has come as a huge blow. The Kodavas are a largely agrarian community who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. The recent floods and the extent of devastation it caused put the Kodavas into introspection mode. Andrea Noronha investigates...
As the district grew in popularity among tourists, the land was exploited and a lot of resorts started to pop up in various places across the district. Most of these huge resorts have been built on forest land. To add to this, the illegal timber and quarrying businesses were rampant in the district, which according to some, is the main reason behind the calamity we have seen devastate the district these past few days.
Considering that the region has seen, at the least, an equal amount of rain in the past, it has caused people to ponder about why such a calamity has occurred.
There is a difference in opinion about the cause of such a calamity. While the majority say that the illegal timber business, deforestation and quarrying has led to this disaster, some others have opined that the Harangi reservoir is the reason.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, on February 12, 2018, released the India State of Forests 2017 report wherein Karnataka was one of the few states that showed an increase in tree cover. The increase was by a total of 1,101 sq km (from 36,421 sq km in the 2015 report to 37,550 sq km in 2017), making Karnataka rank second in the list. This, however, was despite the fact that areas such as Kodagu and Shivamogga showed a decline in tree cover. A total of 102 sq km of tree cover was lost in the Kodagu district.
Environmentalist and plantation owner Anish Madappa, who is presently engaged in the relief efforts in the district, told Karnataka Today that the damage we are seeing in Kodagu is man-made. According to him, the extensive removal of trees to make way for resorts and estates, illegal timber trade and illegal quarrying activities in the forest are some of the greatest contributors to the disaster. “Centuries ago we had more rain than this but, nothing happened at that time. There were no landslides. When there are no trees, how can the soil hold the water? It cannot hold excessive amounts of water,” he said.
Another section of the people, however, is sceptical about the role of deforestation in the present situation in Kodagu. N U Nachappa Codava of the Codava National Council told Karnataka Today that “the disaster and the large-scale landslide occurred because of unscientific construction of (the) Harangi reservoir”.
He added that the backwater pressure destroyed the perennial water springs and punctured the veins of the groundwater sources. “Five traditional Naads (cluster of villages) comprising of 15 Kodava folkloric villages just disappeared in this calamity. We are demanding for the total dismantling of Harangi reservoir to safeguard the remaining villages of Kodagu,” he said in a statement.
When asked if the Harangi dam had any bearing on the disaster in Kodagu, AnishMadappa said that the damn was too far away to have any sort of impact on the region. “Forty per cent of North Kodagu has been washed out. South Kodagu hasn’t received as much rain as the northern part of the district but, if it does, the same thing will happen to south Kodagu,” he explained.
“Those who have been affected have lost everything. There are no trees, no homes… there is nothing. It has become nothing but a huge playground. A meagre compensation amount is not going to help these people,” he lamented adding that what the people needed was permanent rehabilitation.
Once the rains cease and the flood waters recede, the people of Kodagu will be left with what remains of their once glorious region. While the rest of the world will go back to their routine life and forget about those who have been affected by the disaster, the victims will have to do what they can to get their lives together and start from scratch.