MYSURU: Octogenarian Kalmane Kamegowda, popularly known as Kere Kamegowda or Pond Man, who single-handedly built more than 17 ponds in the barren hills of Kundinibetta near his village Dasanadoddi at Malavalli taluk in Mandya District, died due to age-related ailments at his house on Monday.
The 84-year-old Kamegowda shot to fame after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly 66th edition of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on All India Radio lauded his efforts and called him ‘Water Warrior’ on June 28, 2020. He was also conferred the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in November 2018.
Kamegowda was nicknamed ‘Adhunika Bhagiratha’ by local villagers for his tireless efforts in digging 17 ponds over the last 40 years.He also planted more than 2,000 trees.
Kamegowda named two ponds after his grandkids
Mandya youths, Abhi Gowda and M B Naganna Gowda, who made a short documentary film on Kamegowda, said that the lakes can cumulatively store up to 33 crore litres of water. It was TNIE which first featured Kamegowda and his efforts under the headline, ‘Shepherd from Karnataka builds 14 ponds on barren hill, turns his village green’. Sharing his good and bad experiences with TNIE about his journey, Kamegowda had said that as the rainwater flows down from the hills leaving them dry and barren, he came up with the idea of developing ponds for birds and animals. He also said he had spent around Rs 10 to 15 lakh from his hard-earned money to develop the ponds.
His sudden popularity made some of his fellow villagers envious of him and they even complained to Mandya Deputy Commissioner that Kamegowda’s claims are false and he has have not dug any pond.
The crusader was living separately from his children and earned his own livelihood after the death of his wife Kempamma. Kamegowda named two ponds after his grandchildren Poorvi and Krishna. He also named two other ponds developed by him as Rama and Lakshmana. The KSRTC had honoured him with a lifetime free bus pass in 2020.
The Pond Man was first recognised by Rashasiddeshwara Mutt seer who felicitated him for his good work. He was also conferred with awards from KV Shankaregowda Trust and Mysuru Rangayana. The other awards he received are Rama Govinda Award, Malavalli Dhanaguru Mutt’s Shadakshara Deva Award and Chitradurga Murugga Mutt’s International Basavashree Award.
Kamegowda’s health started deteriorating after he suffered an injury in his right leg when some villagers attacked him with weapons allegedly to stop him from digging ponds in 2017. He was admitted to Mandya Institute of Medical Sciences (MIMS) in July 2020. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai described Kamegowda as ‘Jala Rushi’ (Water Sage).