CHAMARAJANAGAR: When chief minister Siddaramaiah laid the foundation stone for Badanaguppe-Kelamballi Industrial Park, about 10km from Chamarajanagar town in June 2015, locals hoped that it will herald a new beginning for the most backward district of the state.The CM who then had held a roadshow in Coimbatore to attract investors had promised investments worth `12,000 crores from 300 investors in the new industrial park that is spread over 1,595 acres and that it will generate employment in thousands.
Three years down the line, the villagers don’t see their hopes becoming a reality in near future.
On the other hand, the project has caused a sort of irrespirable damage to a majority of the land loser families.While a small percentage of people were wise and invested the big money in land elsewhere and continued cultivating, a majority of them who are illiterate or semi-literate squandered it by spending lavishly on weddings of their children, buying motor vehicles, gambling and drinking alcohol. The only visible development that Badanaguppe and Kelamballi villages have seen due to industrial park is that the old-fashioned tiled-roof houses have given way to concrete houses.
Mallegowda (50) who parted with four acres of land for the ambitious project, now herds his less than a dozen sheep and goats to the uninhabitated industrial park for grazing. After losing all his land, he even sold a pair each of bullocks and milking cows. Out of `80 lakh he got for his land (`20 lakh a acre), he spent `8 lakh each on weddings of his two daughters and a son and replaced his old house with a new one at a cost `20 lakh. Then someone cheated him of `15 lakh after promising a plot in Mysuru city. Before losing the rest, he bought some livestock. His wife Chikkamannamma works as farm labourer to help the family of two meet ends.
Landowners to kiln workers
Nagaraja of Keramballi was wise. He bought six acres of land in Heggottare village from the money he got in exchange of 3 acres to industrial park. He even built a new house. In the new land, he grows ragi, jowar and horsegram with rain water and the crop mostly takes care of the needs of his family of 4.
Many who lost their land have turned into construction workers or work in brick kilns that have cropped up in nearby villages to meet the requirement of ever hungry construction industry in big cities like Mysuru.
Unemployment is the biggest problem in this backward district that is dependent on rainwater for agriculture, consists of one of the highest forest cover and with no major industries.In the last five years, the once ‘jinxed’ district has seen some visible development. The roads in towns got widened, drinking water supply improved, villages got concrete roads. The ambitious tank filling project has also to an extent helped many villages by way of improving the ground water level which has extended the farming activity. But there is no improvement in the biggest problem of the district -- unemployment.
Infact, this problem has worsened with many giving up agriculture faced with water shortage. People mostly work as construction workers and farm labourers and migrate to neighbouring Kerala and Tamil Nadu when the jobs in the local market get exhausted. Men and women travelling in pick-up vehicles, tractors and trucks to nearby places to work as construction or farm labourers is common scene in the district. The locals feel though the district has huge potential for tourism, it is still to be tapped in an inclusive manner.
People are happy that Siddaramaiah with his multiple visits to Chamarajanagar helped do away with the jinxed tag but rue that it has not increased employment. Praveen, a building supervisor, says Chamarajanagar still remains ‘jinxed’. “Just good roads does not mean development. We need jobs,” he says.
Losing ground to Kerala bizmen
Several villages in Gundlupet taluk bordering Kerala are witnessing an unusual trend unlike anywhere in Karnataka. Farmers here are leasing out their land to businessmen from Kerala to grow banana, ginger and cassava, among other crops. According to local farmers, the investment for cultivation of banana, turmeric and other commercial crops is huge which they cannot afford given the smaller loans they get from banks.
Hence, they have no option but to lease to it out to businessmen from Kerala because it fetches them some easy money at the end of the year.Apart from Gundlupet, farmers in parts of Chamarajanagar and Nanjangud taluks have also leased out their land for a minimum period of three years. Many farmers, after giving their land on lease, even work as labourers on their own land for daily wages.
However, what is worrying is that huge tracks of land — given on lease — are turning barren.“Mostly, those from Kerala grow ginger on the leased land... if it is grown for three years continuously, then the land will turn useless for the next three years. Though farmers are aware of this, they give it on lease as they have no other option,” says Suresh, a farmer. He says local farmers have been extra cautious in investing in farming in recent years as rainfall has become erratic compared to a decade ago.
“It is after three years that Utturu lake in Kilagere has seen water owing to a lake-filling project. But there is no guarantee that it will have water next year as the lake is at the tail end of the project,” Suresh adds.
Further, the high cost involved in agriculture is causing them to pause. “The investment for banana cultivation till harvest is `1 lakh per acre. But we get only 30% of it as bank loan. For the rest of the money, we have to take hand loan from private moneylenders at high interest rates. If the crop fails, the farmer will find difficult to recover from it.”
Farmers say even it’s not turning out profitable for many of the Kerala businessmen, who take land on contract after returning from Middle-eastern countries with good money. “But not all of them have profited from the contract farming here. Many have suffered huge losses too,” says Shekarappa, a farmer from Terakanambi. He says the government projects for farmers have not helped.
Praveen, a businessman from Wayanad, has taken five acres of land on contract at Kilagere to grow Nendra variety of banana. According to him, they prefer to take up farming in Karnataka as it works out to be cheaper compared to their home state.