BENGALURU: This shepherd from a remote village in Mandya district has been going about his job of digging ponds quietly on the barren hill near his village to help man and wildlife for four decades now.
Known fondly as ‘Pond Man’ and ‘Lake Man’, 84-year-old Kaamegowda became the talk of the town when he was praised for his ‘Aatmanirbhar’ efforts by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ on Sunday.
And coincidentally, a little before that, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat spoke to him over a video call, amazed by his efforts to harvest ‘jal shakti’. Two years back, The New Indian Express wrote about Kaamegowda, who hails from Daasanadoddi village of Malavalli taluk in Mandya district. When TNIE visited his haven then — a half-complete house — the hill presented itself in lush green attire, thanks to the 14 ponds, linked by a waterway that ensures when the upper ponds on the hill are filled, the surplus water flows into the ponds below.
And Kaamegowda received high praise from the highest office of the country for his selfless efforts. Modi, in his ‘Mann ki Baat’, mentioned Kaamegowda and said that at his age, Gowda was doing a wonderful job. “He might have not done bigger lakes, but constructed 16 ponds for which he has invested his energy and time,” said the PM. The man, who least expects awards or rewards, told TNIE that he was very happy about this. “Someone in Delhi recognised the work of a person from Daasanadoddi. It looks like Modi too is fond of ponds just like me,” he said.
Kaamegowda seeks funds to interlink lakes
When he got Shekhawat’s call, the unassuming Kaamegowda greeted him with a ‘Namaskara’. As part of the initiative to recognise, appreciate and join hands with all water warriors across the country, Shekhawat had a detailed conversation with Kaamegowda.
The minister, who came to know of Kaamegowda’s efforts through this reporter’s tweet recently about two more ponds being built by Gowda, had an hour-long video conversation with the octogenarian about his efforts and achievements. After a virtual tour of all the lakes he has built over the last few decades, Kaamegowda requested the Union Minister to fund and facilitate the interlinking of his lakes.
The minister asked the officials to obtain details of Gowda’s request and submit it at the earliest. He assured Kaamegowda of discussing it with Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa and facilitating possible action in this regard.
It was about 40 years ago when Kaamegowda realised that the almost barren Kundinibetta hill next to his village had sparse shrubs with almost no greenery. While taking his flock of sheep grazing on the hillside, he saw animals and birds stressed from the lack of watering holes on the hill. He decided to dig smaller ponds for animals and birds and humans.
When #TNIE spoke to him two years ago, the then 82-year-old #Kaamegowda had spent Rs 10-15 lakh over a period of four decades to build 14 ponds.@XpressBengaluru— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) June 28, 2020
Express Video. pic.twitter.com/3PoOS26KRr
All these years, almost every day between 5 am and 9 am, he has dug ponds, and grazed sheep from 9 am to 7 pm. “Sometimes, I used to go to the hillock to dig a pond during night armed with a lamp or on a full moon day,” he told TNIE then.
He sold his sheep and purchased a shovel, spade, pickaxe, and other tools to dig a pond. Later, he spent all his savings. By 2018 he had constructed 14 ponds. The same year Karnataka Government recognised him and awarded the prestigious Kannada Rajyotsava award. He is also the recipient of Basavashri Award. He spent the award money on his lake mission.