Ground Report: Belagavi weavers struggle amidst rising costs, government neglect, Mahadayi delay

Former Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar is in the fray on a BJP ticket, but is not guaranteed to win.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 06, 2024 | 8:00 AMUpdatedMay 06, 2024 | 9:35 AM

Belagavi ground report

In the heart of Belagavi’s Ramdurg in Karnataka, where tradition weaves its intricate threads through generations, lies a tale of resilience and struggle.

Here, the lives of weavers unfold a tapestry woven with hopes, dreams, and the harsh realities of everyday existence amidst the vibrant hues of handloom sarees.

The Belagavi district’s Ramdurg is known for its handloom sarees, which are known for their vibrant colours, fine quality, and intricate designs.

Enter the world of Shankar Huli, a stalwart of the weaving community whose fingers dance over the loom with skills honed for more than two decades.

Karnataka Belagavi Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha Polls Jagadish Shettar Mrunal Hebbalkar Congress BJP Weavers

Shankar Huli has been into weaving for the last two decades in Ramdurg. (South First)

In a voice laden with both frustration and determination, Shankar painted a grim picture of the challenges faced by his brethren.

“We did not have any benefit from the government until recently. The government is imposing a Goods and Service Tax (GST) on raw materials, and we are not getting any discount,” he pointed out.

“This is resulting in a surge in the production costs of fabrics. There is no proper platform and price for the marketing either,” noted Shankar.

“If we fix the price of a saree based on the production cost, then sarees will remain unsold. The government must provide relief to weavers by providing subsidies for the raw materials,” he said.

Highlighting their concerns, he pointed out: “The state government offers relief to weavers using up to 10HP of power, but it’s proving to be costly for those utilising 50HP or more, most of whom are raw-material suppliers.”

Shankar also said: “Since the government raised power tariffs for commercial use, raw-material sellers have hiked prices by 30-40 percent. Their monthly electricity bills skyrocketed from ₹25,000 to ₹50,000-60,000, severely impacting our community for the last three to five months.”

Adding to the plight, Shankar lamented: “Over 15,000 skilled weavers live in our town; however, there is no textile park. We have been demanding one for over two decades. Politicians make promises during elections, but later forget about them.”

Expressing disillusionment, he continued, “Even government schemes, like honorary amounts, fail to reach actual beneficiaries. They pledged bank loans at a low 3 percent interest, but in reality, banks demand various complicated documents.”

He pointed out: “None of us weavers received loans like this. It’s all on paper. Our leaders make false assurances, showing no real concern for us. We hope that at least this election will change the fate of weavers here.”

Karnataka Belagavi Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha Polls Jagadish Shettar Mrunal Hebbalkar Congress BJP

Sangeeta Huli is a daily wage labourer at power loom unit in Ramdurg. (South First)

There are over 15,000 families dependent on weaving in the region. With no financial support or programme to encourage handloom weaving, the weavers have shifted to powerlooms.

Sangeeta Huli, a daily-wage labourer for a decade, shared her struggles. “We are paid around ₹180 per saree, and manage just two a day. It’s insufficient with rising essential costs,” she pointed out.

“There’s no support for weavers or labourers, no scholarships for children. The ₹2,000 assistance from the Gruha Lakshmi scheme helps with groceries and veggies,” she admitted.

Basavaraj K, another weaver, echoed similar sentiments: “With a meagre ₹10,000 monthly wage, it’s challenging to sustain our families, especially with soaring prices of essentials.”

He added: “I receive ₹5,000 yearly under Nekar Saman scheme. The government must introduce welfare programmes to alleviate our financial distress.”

Also Read: Belagavi district trifurcation demand resurfaces in Karnataka

Peek into Belagavi

Belagavi — formerly known as “Venugrama” or the “Bamboo Village” — stands as a testament to centuries of history and cultural richness amidst the towering Western Ghats.

Its roots trace back to the 2nd century AD, making it one of the oldest and most prominent historical places in the region. Over time, Belagavi evolved into a dynamic district in what currently is the Indian state of Karnataka.

The juxtaposition of the old town area — dotted with cotton and silk weavers — with the modern, bustling British Cantonment creates a unique charm.

Belagavi also boasts a plethora of temples and churches, showcasing its diverse religious and cultural heritage.

Situated at the cultural crossroads between Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Goa, Belagavi has assimilated the flavours of these states, enriching its local Kannada culture. This fusion of traditions has sculpted a rich and vibrant heritage that is distinctly unique.

Belagavi’s lush surroundings, often referred to as Malnad (rain country), offer a verdant backdrop throughout the year. This natural abundance, coupled with its strategic location between Bengaluru and Mumbai, has propelled Belagavi into a burgeoning hub for industries.

The district is home to India’s first Aerospace Precision Engineering and Manufacturing special economic zone (SEZ), highlighting its prowess in the aerospace sector.

Abundant deposits of bauxite — an ore of aluminium — and a thriving foundry industry contribute to its status as a manufacturing powerhouse.

With 24 sugar factories, eight medium-scale enterprise units, and notable players in industries such as aerospace and aluminium, Belagavi has firmly established itself as an industrial stalwart.

The district houses well-built infrastructure for education and health as it has prestigious education institutions offering all kinds of courses including professional and super-speciality hospitals. People from neighbouring Maharashtra also prefer Belagavi for education and medical treatment.

In essence, Belagavi encapsulates a rich tapestry of history, culture, and industrial prowess. From its ancient roots to its modern-day achievements, Belagavi continues to evolve, embracing progress while honouring its heritage.

Also Read: ‘Aaya Rams’ becoming ‘Gaya Rams’ ahead of BBMP, LS polls?

Mahadayi takes centre stage

As the Lok Sabha elections are fought on various issues, the Mahadayi-Kalasa Banduri project has taken centre stage in the Belagavi constituency.

Even two years after the Central government approved the detailed project report of Karnataka for the implementation of Mahadayi, the Narendra Modi-led Union government is yet to give environmental and forest clearance for the project.

Though Karnataka has already floated the tender, the work order is yet to be issued as the Centre delays the required clearances.

Karnataka Belagavi Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha Polls Jagadish Shettar Mrunal Hebbalkar Congress BJP

Belagavi District Kannada Organisation Action Committee Chairman Ashok Chandaragi. (South First)

Belagavi District Kannada Organisation Action Committee President Ashok Chandaragi told South First: “Mahadayi water-sharing is an old issue. When the states concerned could not come to terms over water-sharing, the Justice Panchal tribunal was set up in 2010.”

He recalled: “The tribunal gave its award on 14 August, 2018. Karnataka got 13.5 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft), Goa was awarded 24 tmcft, and Maharashtra was given 1.33 tmcft. After the award, the three states approached the Supreme Court seeking more water.”

Chandaragi added: “The apex court gave a judgement on 20 February, 2020, allowing states to utilise the awarded water from Mahadayi. Within a week, the Union government also published the notified it, with a condition that all the necessary permissions including environment and forest must be taken before beginning the work.”

He continued: “Four years later, the Union government is yet to give the required clearance to start the project. Despite having a double-engine government, BJP failed to give clearance. The saffron party was at the helm in Goa and Maharashtra as well.”

He also pointed out: “The prime minister could have chaired a meeting of all the three states and resolved the matter, but he did not do it.”

Chandaragi complained: “Mahadayi issues have become a weapon for politicians during the elections. None of them are displaying the courage to resolve it and are confined to making fake promises, while it is a lifeline for us.”

He also said: “We have been allocated 3.9 tmcft from Kalasa-Banduri, with the remaining 8 tmc being allocated for hydro-power generation. If this project is implemented, it will permanently help address drinking-water issues of 14 talukas of four districts.”

However, he also explained: “It does not mean that all our issues will be resolved if it is implemented. We had demanded 45 tmc from Mahadayi but the Panchal tribunal gave us only 13.9 tmcft. The matter is still before the apex court.”

Chandaragi also noted that the Bommai government in the state redesigned the detailed project report to curb the impact on the environment and forest while implementing it.

“This project has been stranded at the level of environmental and forest clearance. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah claimed he would start the works the day after the Central government gave all the required clearances. Meanwhile, BJP and JD(S) leaders are claiming clearances will come if the saffron party is voted to power.”

Karnataka Belagavi Lok Sabha 2024 Lok Sabha Polls Jagadish Shettar Mrunal Hebbalkar Congress BJP

Ashok K expresses anguish over delay in implementing Mahadayi project. (South First)

As per the detailed project report (DPR), the Karnataka government was planning to lift water from Mahadayi and Kalasa Banduri Nala to release it to the Malaprabha river, which flows majorly through the Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency.

Former Badli Gram Panchayat president Ashok Konagavi told South First: “There is a severe drought in the region, leading to drinking water issues. Farmers in the region are hopeful that they will get water one or the other day from Mahadayi.”

He added: “We do not know why it is being delayed. We are petitioning whoever comes for the campaign to our village to implement it at the earliest.”

He also said: “We had hopes on the previous government of implementing it, but it did not do it.”

Also Read: ‘Guarantees have swallowed irrigation projects’ 

The Belagavi constituency

Historically, the Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency has been dominated by Congress. However, BJP has never lost the Lok Sabha elections from this seat since 2004.

BJP’s Suresh Angadi defeated Congress’ VS Sadhunavar by a record margin of 3.91 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Given the evolving political scenarios, Congress is making valiant efforts to breach the BJP fort and restamp its authority in Belagavi this time.

To that end, the party has fielded Murnal Hebbalkar, the son of the state’s Minister for Women and Child Welfare Laxmi Hebbalkar, from the seat.

Meanwhile, BJP has given a ticket to its former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections for the first time.

The Belagavi seat consists of eight Assembly segments, three of which are represented by BJP and the remaining five by Congress.

On condition of anonymity, a political commentator told South First: “Five of the eight Assembly segments are represented by Congress, which appears to be stronger. The local leaders — including Congress MLAs — have been sidelined and none of them is actively participating in the poll campaign. This is a big minus for the ruling party in Karnataka.”

He added: “The sole negative point of BJP’s nominee Shettar is that he is an outsider. There is also a lot of dissent in the saffron cadre as well. The candidate here is solely dependent on the Modi wave.”

He also pointed out: “Jagadish belongs to the Shettar community, a sub-sect of Lingayats. This community is politically and economically strong in the constituency. Ramdurga, Savadatti, and Bailhongal are completely dominated by the community.”

The expert also noted: “In the previous Lok Sabha by-polls, Congress lost to BJP by a wafer-thin margin. Considering the current political scenarios, it appears that Belagavi is likely to witness a close fight.”

He added: “There is dissent in both parties, but BJP leaders are coming together for Modi, whereas such forces seem to have disappeared in the Congress camp.”

Meanwhile, supporters of Congress MLAs in Bailhongal and Ramdurg are unhappy with Laxmi Hebbalkar over her poll activities in the region.

“The Congress candidate and his mother have completely sidelined the local MLAs because Laxmi Hebbalkar has brought in men from Bhadravathi. The MLAs are out of station at the peak poll time. This clearly depicts that everything is not well in Congress, which might cost it the elections,” opined a supporter of Ramdurg MLA Ashok Pattan.

Also Read: Jagadish Shettar returns to BJP, stuns Congress ahead of LS polls

Caste equations

Lingayats and Muslims are the dominant castes in the Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency. Marathas, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Jains, and Kurubas are the other influential communities in the seat.

There are 19,23,788 voters in the constituency. Women voters outnumber the men here. Of the total, 9.66 lakh voters are women, 9.57 lakh are men, and 95 are “others”.

The aforementioned anonymous political commentator told South First: “Elections used to be fought on the issues earlier. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. Money, caste, and liquor have rocked the elections.”

He explained: “People consider caste and money while exercising the franchise these days.”

He also said: “Women voters are impressed with guarantees and most of them are likely to rally behind Congress in the elections.”

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)