Calls to ‘Save Kodagu’ grow louder over commercialisation threatening environment, economy, Cauvery

A movement to stop sale of land to ‘outsiders‘, demand for e-pass and cap on number of tourists is gathering steam in Kodagu.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Jun 20, 2024 | 8:00 AM Updated Jun 20, 2024 | 8:00 AM

Kodagu Karnataka Cauvery River Environment Commercialisation Jamma Lands

A campaign to protect the region’s environmental and cultural heritage has taken centre stage in the geologically and culturally rich Kodagu district.

The Codava National Council (CNC), spearheaded by NU Nachappa Codava, has launched a ‘Save Kodagu’ drive against the alleged rampant commercialisation that threatens the ancestral lands of the local population.

The movement aims to educate locals about the significance of preserving jamma and coffee plantations from being sold to outsiders for commercial exploitation.

Jamma land was awarded to various local communities by the Coorg Rajas, and to a lesser extent, by the British until 1895.

Environmentalists like Colonel (Retd) CP Muthanna have moved the High Court of Karnataka seeking to protect the ecologically sensitive area.

Besides, the increased tourist footfall has also fuelled worries as the region lacks sufficient infrastructure to cater to the visitors’ needs, further leading to the exploitation of natural resources including groundwater.

With the lifeline of the Cauvery River at stake, these passionate advocates are striving to protect Kodagu’s unique landscape from becoming a casualty of unchecked development and urbanisation.

The River Cauvery originates at Kodagu’s Talakaveri in the Brahmagiri range of the Western Ghats.

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Save Kodagu drive

The CNC, which launched the awareness drive on 3 June, is opposing the sale of land to outsiders.

Thadiyandamol is a favourite destination of trekkers. (Coorg tourism)

Thadiyandamol is a favourite destination of trekkers. (Coorg tourism)

Several like-minded people have joined hands with Nachappa to create awareness, especially among the rural populace.

Nachappa said the state-sponsored misadventure has been allowing outsiders to buy and encroach on land.

“They are taking cover under the Karnataka Land Reforms Amendment Act 79(A) and 79(B), converting agrarian lands to build gigantic villas, mega townships, and house sites for commercial purposes,” he said.

“This includes the conversion of 2,400 acres of BBTC Coffee Gardens at Siddapur near the Cauvery catchment area, an eco-sensitive zone,” he stated.

“Three hundred acres of coffee plantations in the foothills of Thadiyandamol, which carries the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site tag, have been illegally converted into a resort,” he said.

Thandiyandamol is the third-highest peak in Karnataka, after Mullayyanagiri and Kudremukha.

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A region in distress

“Additionally, a housing colony developed by a Hyderabad man, in collaboration with the Kodagu District Administration, has demolished three mountains in Galibeed’s greenbelt,” he claimed.

Thalakaveri temple. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thalakaveri temple. (Wikimedia Commons)

“The destruction is spread over all villages in Kodagu, ruining our sacred landscape. The nerve centres of our perennial water sources have already been punctured by the excavation work carried out by these people,” Nachappa said, adding that the Codavaland is their traditional and indivisible homeland.

“Our hereditary communal-clannish lands, villages, sacred groves, burial grounds, village shrines, ancient memorials and battlegrounds, war memorials, revered pilgrimage centre Talacauvery, movable, immovable, and landed properties of villages and Naad shrines are being jeopardized by the state,” he further stated.

“The socio-religious structures are now under threat due to state interference. Coorg is in distress. The ruin of this unique fabric will be detrimental to our future,” he expressed his concern while explaining the peaceful human-chain programmes across the Codava territory.

“We have taken a sacred pledge before the Divine Cauvery and Lord Igguthappa to pursue this cause,” he added.

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Wanted: Micro-level policies

Meanwhile, environmentalists have taken the legal route against the rampant commercialisation of lands.

“The rampant commercialisation and urbanisation have severely affected Kodagu. We are not just raising voices against the commercialisation of land but also fighting it legally in the high court,” Colonel (Retd) Muthanna told South First.

He said the court has issued an interim order favouring their demand. The court has yet to take up the case for a final hearing.

“We are hoping for a favourable judgement. A total of 3,000 acres have been commercialised between  2005 and 2015,” he said, adding that the trend was on an upswing.

“The commercialisation is affecting Cauvery’s catchment areas, which is not just the lifeline of Kodagu but also Mysuru, Mandya and Bengaluru as well. The river caters to over 80 million people and over 600 industries. We need macro-level policies for the protection of the catchment areas,” he opined.

“Catchment areas are the lifeline of any river. If we don’t protect or save these catchment areas, we will face a water crisis in future. The exploitation of underground water and other natural resources is rampant due to the mushrooming resorts, hotels, homestays and other commercial activities,” pointed Col Muthanna.

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Cascading effect

He further said Kodagu, too, felt the heat of the acute water crisis in Bengaluru. The district administration prohibited farmers from pumping water for irrigation purposes from the catchment areas of the Cauvery River.

Madhav Gadgil

Madhav Gadgil. (Wikimedia Commons)

“We cannot remain without watering the coffee plants during the seasons. But we were compelled to follow the orders. The water crisis is affecting us severely. Hence, we are demanding an exclusive policy to protect the catchment areas. The government can start it on a pilot basis in Kodagu,” the former army officer said.

He also decried the Union government’s failure to implement the Madhav Gadgil committee report.

“The committee recommended declaring the Western Ghats as an ecological-sensitive area with limited development work permitted in graded zones. The government is yet to implement its recommendations,” he said, adding that it reflected the government’s lack of interest in conserving the Western Ghats.

“It appears that the government has succumbed to the pressure of contractors and politicians,” he alleged.

The surge in tourists visiting the picturesque district has led to the sprouting of a large number of resorts, hotels and homestays. “The tourism department claimed that a record 47 lakh people visited Kodagu last year. Kodagu’s total population is only around 6 to 7 lakh,” he pointed out.

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Risk zone

Colonel (Retd) Muthanna demanded measures such as entry fees and e-passes to regulate tourists.

The concerns raised by environmentalists and activists are not unfounded. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has noted the Brahmagiri hills as a potential risk zone due to “intense human activities.”

The GSI made the observation after a landslide killed five people, including the priest of the Talakaveri temple, on 6 August 2020.

A GSI team that visited the area reported that four landslides were reported from Kodagu between 2007 and 2020.

Meanwhile, Madikeri MLA Mantra Gowda acknowledged the concerns. The Congress lawmaker said the government’s top priority is to conserve the environment and develop sustainable tourism infrastructure.

“We are working towards to saving the environment. We need to strike a balance by bringing in effective laws. However, it is a herculean task,” he added.

Gowda opined that the culture, food, weather and wildlife were attracting tourists in large numbers.

“We need better and sustainable infrastructure for the tourists, keeping in mind the conservation of the environment,” he said, adding that the existing infrastructure was inadequate.

The MLA further said the introduction of e-passes for tourists was successful in Ooty and other tourist spots in Tamil Nadu was successful since those places had only one entry point.

“In Kodagu, we have multiple entry points:  Hassan, Mysuru, Kerala and Chikkamagaluru. It will be difficult to monitor multiple entry points. I have discussed this with the official concerned,” he said.

The lawmaker said the government was not considering e-passes now. “It might take some time. However, I give top priority to environmental conservation. We will chalk out policies addressing the concerns of the local people,” he said.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).

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