Urbanisation will sound the death-knell of Kodagu, says Col. Muthanna
The Kodagu we know will soon cease to exist, warns Col. C.P. Muthanna (picture above), Secretary of the Kodagu Model Forest Trust, in the following article:
For Kodagu and its people, a new threat looms large on the horizon. The danger is very real. It is a growing menace that must be tackled immediately; we just do not have the luxury of time. The threat is the rapid urbanization of Kodagu, cloaked under the cover of ‘development’. Most of our towns are steadily growing in every possible direction. Let us take the example of Gonikoppal. To the east, Gonikoppal has merged with Harishchandrapura and is fast extending to Seegethod. To the west, Gonikoppal and Kaikeri will soon become one. Kaikeri is already reaching out to Hathur and Hathur to Bittangala. In turn, Bittangala is growing into a small township and will head towards Virajpet, while Virajpet itself extends to the east towards Bittangala. To the north, Gonikoppal is steadily gaining ground towards Athur on two separate axes. Even within towns, ‘layouts’ and ‘extensions’ are springing up and expanding in areas that were once lush green slopes overlooking the town.
Conversion of land into sites is the new way to wealth in Kodagu. Lands that are on the road side are being viewed in terms of ‘cents’ and not acres. The value is especially high if the land is close to a major town such as Virajpet, Madikeri or Gonikoppal. It could be paddy fields, coffee plantations or uncultivated land. Soon, Kodagu will resemble Kerala. Buildings and houses will dominate the landscape all along the roads. It will not be possible to discern where one town ends and another begins. The bulk of these sites will be purchased by people who have migrated to Kodagu from outside the district. In view of the recession, an estimated seven lakh people from neighbouring Kerala have lost their jobs in the Gulf and have returned home. Kerala will find it difficult to absorb them and a large segment of these people will move into contiguous areas including Kodagu. Even if five percent of them move into Kodagu, it works out to a figure of thirty five thousand! The demand for sites for houses will therefore get a huge boost, and at the same time, the marginalization of the indigenous communities will get further accentuated. In a sense, the situation in Kodagu today is already worse than Assam.
Kodagu is the catchment area of River Cauvery that sustains millions of people across South India. Therefore, protection of the forested and rural landscape of Kodagu is in the national interest. Being a hilly region, the ecology of Kodagu is extremely fragile. Ecological degradation will soon result in water-stress. In the case of Madikeri City, the annual rainfall is ninety to hundred inches. Yet the city faces water shortage during summer. The recent months have seen the worst water shortages ever faced by Madikeri. Yet, the City Muncipal Council plans to expand the city municipality limits by an additional eight kilometers! Urbanization of Kodagu will result in more bore wells, and rapid depletion of the water table. This will lead to demand for additional piped water schemes from the rivers. Consequently, there will be a scarcity of water for irrigation of plantations and agricultural land. Coffee plantations and agriculture has been the mainstay of the Kodagu economy for several generations.
There is also a serious issue of waste management. The existing waste and sewage management systems of the towns are extremely inefficient as well as inadequate. Town municipalities and Gram Panchayats routinely dump their garbage in forest areas, sacred groves, river banks and on road sides. In the face of improper waste disposal, the threat of ground-water contamination in Kodagu is real, and ground-water contamination is extremely serious because it is permanent. Further urbanization will only compound this problem.
One of the issues related to urbanization is the huge mass of tourists that descend on Madikeri during week-ends and the holiday season. There is a need to regulate tourism not only in Madikeri but all over the district, so that it does not exceed the carrying capacity of Kodagu. Tourism may bring in some money to Kodagu- but at what cost? Uncontrolled tourism will see further demands on depleting water resources and further strain the waste management systems. At the same time, we will lose more of our precious land to resorts and hotels.
There are also other serious ramifications to urbanization in Kodagu. Urbanization will bring in its wake land sharks and mafia. Crime rates will soar and we will witness greater social and societal tensions.
Kodagu could rapidly slide into the ‘urbanization trap’. Certain urgent steps that need to be considered are:
A. Town delimitation and town planning
B. Restrictions on conversion of agricultural/ plantation land for commercial purposes or for sale as sites.
C. The Zilla Panchayat should impose a three-year cap on fresh licenses for new hotels and resorts, home stays, guest houses etc, and for expansion of existing ones. This will check further loss of agricultural and plantation lands .It will also ensure that the number of tourists does not exceed the carrying capacity of the fragile hill-ecology of Kodagu.
D. Any effort to check urbanization of Kodagu will meet with stiff resistance from vested interests. There is huge money involved in land conversion, no-objection certificates [NOCs], and sale of commercial lands. This money is channelized to various echelons. However, the urbanization issue must be tackled head-on to save Kodagu. In the ultimate analysis, Kodagu must remain a rural landscape that is dominated by forests, plantations and wet lands. Apart from the plantation sector, development and employment must be in the form of agro-forestry, fruit processing industries, organic fertiliser and pesticide production, bamboo-based industries, honey production, live-stock, herbal medicine and cosmetics, etc. These are industries that are in consonance with the landscape and which will protect the long-term interests of the indigenous communities of Kodagu.
E. If we do not succeed in halting the urbanization of Kodagu, all other struggles and efforts to protect this land will be in vain. Time and again I am reminded of these sad lines from an old song-‘‘Once there were green fields kissed by the Sun- Once there were valleys where rivers used to run.