BHAGAMANDALA, KODAGU:About 5 miles downstream of River Cauvery’s origin lies a confluence point of three rivers. The Cauvery which takes birth at Talacauvery in Kodagu flows downstream to meet Kannika and Sujyothi, the tributaries, at Bhagamandala.
The confluence point surrounded by thick Western Ghat forests acts as the vital catchment area for the river. But, in the last few years, the river has slowly thinned at its source. People of Kodagu have over the years exploited the river basin and water levels are beginning to fall.
For decades, the timber lobby here has removed numerous trees from the forests. Though this lobby is now under control, conservationists say that they are just waiting for the guard to drop and that there are other lobbies at play.
Conservationists point to owners of large chunks of estates, many of who are also politicians from all the parties, who then decide on ‘developmental’ works that are brought here. Be it a highway, road relaying, or building a mini hydel-plant or a resort, the lobbies plan and implement the projects.
The recent trend of large-scale purchasing of properties by politicians has left many worried here. “No politician will purchase land to retain it as a forest. It’s an investment and he or she will definitely change land use to make profits. The trend of purchasing properties in these parts of Western Ghats had seen a decline post demonetisation, but recent purchases by politicians and their kin have caused worry,” maintains a conservationist.
Recently, son of a senior Congress leader who is serving in the government allegedly purchased a total of 305 acres of properties in the name of a hydel company. Conservationists say that several hydel-projects that came into Western Ghats with the ‘green-and-clean’ energy card have done extensive damage in the past.
A senior BJP leader and a sitting MLA, who was also once a minister, too is said to have bought a large estate here. Locals say that such properties in River Cauvery’s catchment area are owned also by sitting MLAs from Congress, son of a senior Congress minister and even a BJP union minister.
Change in land-use in the catchment of Cauvery is another issue that needs to be tackled. Paddy fields which used to hold water half the year through are now being filled up to build resorts and commercial establishments. Large native trees are making way for silver oaks, which do not help in recharging the groundwater table.
Resorts and road widening harmful
Several resorts and home-stays that have come up in the catchment region are using natural water to meet the demand of their guests and the number of tourists is increasing every season. It is estimated that last year 15 lakh tourists visited Kodagu district.
Creating of new roads and widening of existing one is also edging out the Cauvery. The road that connects Bhagamandala to Kerala via Karike is now listed for widening. The road connects Panattur in Kerala from Bhagamandala which is located about 38 km from Madikeri. Local Nature lovers say that the road is sufficient for the traffic flow and have voiced this too. Against their wishes, the central government has already taken up surveying the road for widening.
Three important sanctuaries and a tiger reserve
More than half of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve falls in Kodagu district. The area has highest concentration of tigers in India and several tree species are endemic to this district alone. The Talacauvery, Pushpagiri and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuaries are Protected Areas (PAs). The Eco-Sensitive Zone demarcation has already been done for these three sanctuaries and for Nagarhole it is under process.
Voters are in a mood for change
Kodagu has 2,08,514 voters and has two constituencies - Madikeri and Virajpet. Both the seats have been won by the BJP leaders K G Bopaiah and Appachu Ranjan since 2004. Traditionally a Congress stronghold, these two constituencies have been under the BJP for over a decade. This year, voters seem to be in a mood for change.
Planters switch off
Planters here are fed up with falling prices of coffee and pepper. Coffee prices depend on the international market but the central government’s import policy, of shipping in the spice from Sri Lanka, hit pepper trade. The price of one kilogram of pepper has fallen to `320. Last year, a kilogram of pepper was sold at `700. Says a planter, “We are losing interest in elections.”