Bitter Kannada Rajyotsava for Kodagu. 50,000 trees face the axe
By P.T. Bopanna
This year’s Kannada Rajyotsava will be a bitter pill for Kodagu which merged with Karnataka on November 1, 1956. It was exactly 58 years ago that the independent Coorg State merged with Karnataka following the linguistic reorganisation of States.
The Karnataka government’s decision to go ahead with the 400 KV power line across Kodagu by felling over 50,000 trees in the ecologically fragile region could spell a disaster for Kodagu.
With the Karnataka government giving its green signal, the Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCI) is all set to draw the power line to evacuate power from Kaiga nuclear plant near Karwar to supply power to Kerala.
According to environmentalists, though there are alternate routes available to draw the power line, politicians in league with the Kerala timber lobby, have chosen the Kodagu route mainly to loot the forests.
The fact that Kodagu is also part of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Mysore Lok Sabha constituency has not helped matters.
What is intriguing is the fact that the elected representatives in Kodagu – BJP MLAs Appachu Ranjan and K.G. Bopaiah, and the BJP Lok Sabha member Prathap Simha – have maintained a discreet silence over the project, despite the growing protests from the people.
What is worrying is that even a state government appointed committee consisting of among others Prof. Raman Sukumar of the Indian Institute of Science, has given the go ahead for the project. Prof Sukumar who has done extensive research on the man-animal conflict, is aware of the elephant menace in Kodagu because of the encroachment of the elephant corridor. At least Prof Sukumar was expected to give his dissent, but he too toed the line favouring the government.
The state government appointed three-member committee to look into the feasibility of possible alternative routes as proposed by the environmentalists has ruled that these routes are not only detrimental to wildlife conservation, but require huge capital and are technically not feasible.
The committee has opined the other routes would require more forests to be cleared than what the present proposal will necessitate. Environmentalists had suggested use of the D-line (District line dividing the two districts of Mysore and Wayanad in Kerala) passing via Nagarahole or the existing 220 KV line on the Kadakola-Kaniyampetta corridor for linking Karnataka with Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the South, besides upgrading the 110 KV corridor between Kasargod and Mangalore.
Sources said it was not just the power from Kaiga, but the government was planning to evacuate power on the proposed line from the Kudankulam atomic power plant in Tamil Nadu which has been built at an outlay of Rs 17,000 crore with Russian assistance.
Karnataka’s power minister D.K. Shivakumar has claimed there was tremendous pressure from the Union government to complete the project.
Environmentalist Suresh Heblikar warned: “Although we can generate power, we cannot produce water. As such, saving the Western Ghats will be the key to conserving our environment.”
At a recent meeting held in Kodagu to protest the project, Major General S.G.Vombatkere (Retd), recalled that the Karnataka officials had deposed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), stating that the objections of Gram Sabhas were “belated” and an “after-thought”. Gen Vombatkere felt these statements were uncalled for, and show the dismissive attitude of officials towards simple people.
Retired IFS officer Dr. Kodira Kushalappa has said the proposed power line passing through Kodagu will destroy the rich natural wealth and the eco-system.
The meeting held at Ponnampet in Kodagu passed a five-point resolution, including the rejection of the recommendations of the government appointed three-member committee, strong condemnation of the administration and Power Grid officials for attempt to snatch away the rights of the people by misusing the Indian Telegraph Act framed by the Britishers, and also to launch an agitation if the government went ahead with the project.
In view of the developments, people of Kodagu feel that had Kodagu remained a separate state instead of merging with Karnataka, they could have rejected the power line. The assurances given at the time of merger to safeguard the interests of Kodagu has not been kept by the Karnataka rulers. This amounts to betrayal of the people of Kodagu for whom the Kannada Rajyotsava will remain a black day.