The Ballari Rural Assembly segment contributes significantly to the state's economy but it remains undeveloped and parched.
With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
The ultraviolet index was “extreme” around 11 am at Belagal village on Monday, 17 April. The temperature was 34 degrees Celsius with the mercury racing north towards the 40 degrees mark.
Thick exhaust from the smokestacks of sponge-iron units threw a carcinogenic smog blanket on the village, even as women moved slowly with colourful plastic pots balanced on their heads and hips.
They were on their way to collect water from Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants set up in the village.
A 30-minute bumpy ride takes one to the parched Belagal village from Ballari town in Karnataka. The village has several industries polluting the atmosphere, bad roads, and acute scarcity of potable water.
Several farmers have quit farming. Families have become fragmented as people migrated to other places in search of livelihoods. Those remaining in the village now work as farmhands or do menial jobs in the factories.
Basanagouda, whose family once held eight acres of farmland, stands testimony to the downfall of farmers in the Ballari Rural constituency.
Belagal had its halcyon days — or it appeared so — between 2008 and 2011 as mining began.
“My family has over eight acres. We quit farming a few years ago after the excessive emission from the factories destroyed the crops,” Basanagouda, a resident of Belagal, told South First.
“Around 70 percent of farmers in my village have quit farming and migrated to urban areas in search of better livelihoods,” he added nonchalantly.
Once a farmer, Basanagouda is now a daily-wage labourer.
Belagal is not an exception. Several villages in the Ballari Rural Assembly constituency bordering Andhra Pradesh have similar tales.
Despite the Vedavathi river flowing through the segment, people living near the interstate border have been facing severe water shortages.
Rekhagouda, a housewife, was carrying water in a green plastic pot when South First caught up with her.
“We have a severe drinking water issue. The elected members are not bothered enough to address this problem,” she said, wiping the perspiration off her forehead with her free hand. .
“Our village never had a regular water supply. We face drinking water shortage not just in summer, but during other seasons as well,” she added.
The Ballari Rural Assembly constituency is an important segment for all parties, specifically the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka.
With its rich mineral resources and agriculture-based economy, the constituency is a major contributor to the state’s exchequer.
The constituency has a literacy rate of 65.25 percent. Male literacy is 75.44 percent while 54.94 percent of women are literate. The segment has several schools and colleges, including professional institutions.
People speak Kannada, Telugu, and Hindi. The constituency is predominantly rural and depends on agriculture as the primary source of income for its residents.
Major crops grown in the area include paddy, chilli, sorghum, sunflower, groundnut, cotton, and sugarcane.
The constituency is also rich in mineral resources, including iron ore, manganese, and limestone. It also has several mining operations.
Around five to six wards of the Ballari City Corporation also fall under the Ballari Rural Assembly segment.
Political activities, too, are generating heat under the scorching Ballari sun with once close friends contesting against each other on the 10 May Assembly poll.
The BJP’s influential Scheduled Tribe (ST) leader and Minister for Transport B Sriramulu, who represents Chitradurga’s Molkalmuru in the outgoing Assembly, and Congress’s incumbent MLA B Nagendra have locked horns for Ballari Rural.
Both were once thick friends and had worked together to strengthen the BJP in Ballari between 2008 and 2018.
Political differences with the BJP took Nagendra to the Congress camp. He won from Ballari Rural on a Congress ticket in 2018.
He was with the BJP till 2018 and represented the Kudalgi Assembly seat twice, in 2008 and 2013.
The Congress won Ballari Rural six times in the past 11 elections. The BJP won it twice, and Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress (BSRC) and an independent once each.
The Congress has been the dominant party in the ST-dominated Ballari Rural segment. However, Sriramulu had won the seat three times in the past four elections.
He represented the BJP twice (2004 and 2008) and once the BSRCP, which he founded in 2013. He later dissolved the party and went back to the BJP.
The voters are expecting an intense fight between the two old friends.
“This election will witness a close fight between the BJP and the Congress. People don’t consider JD(S) as a major entity here, Purushottam Gouda, president of Tungabhadra Raitha Sangha, told South First.
“Sriramulu and Nagendra belong to the dominant Valmiki community,” he pointed out.
“Sriramulu represented the segment three times but did not do anything to better the rural people’s lives. The constituency has many industries but unemployment and farmers’ issues remain unaddressed,” he opined.
Purushottam Gouda also explained Sriramulu’s winning secret. “He used his money power to win the elections. Even during Nagendra’s tenure, the segment has hardly witnessed any development,” he added.
The voters said Sriramulu was inaccessible to them, unlike Nagendra.
Even as people in several other constituencies have been demanding industries to address unemployment, Ballari Rural is facing the ill effects of rapid industrialisation.
Both the youth and farmers are a worried lot in the segment. The farmers blame themselves for giving land to industries as it soon started affecting their crops.
“We have lost peace ever since the factories came up in the region. Many factories are not following the emission guidelines,” farmers’ leader N Ramappa, a resident of Janekunte village, told South First:
“Besides damaging crops, it is also causing serious health issues such as asthma and cancer. We have brought this to the notice of the district administration and the Pollution Control Board. But neither of them have understood the gravity of the situation,” he said.
Ramappa alleged that all officials, including the deputy commissioner, are corrupt. “Many lives are at stake. If they don’t control the pollution, the people will have to vacate the villages in the next 10 years,” he stated.
“The MLAs have to serve the public. Instead, they work for businessmen and the rich,” Ramappa said, adding that he has lost hope in elections.
Around 70 percent of farmers in Janekunte, Bellagal and Haraginadoni have quit farming, leaving their land barren. They are migrating to Mangaluru, Bengaluru and Goa in search of better livelihoods.
Meanwhile, the youth lamented that the industries prefer locals for low-grade jobs like sweeping and cleaning. They recruit North Indians for better-paying roles.
Mohammed Arif, who has a diploma in Mechanical Engineering, pointed out: “There are many prestigious companies in Ballari Rural. The locals are hardly recruited for high-grade jobs despite having the necessary educational qualifications.”
“The industries prefer graduates from other states to locals. They consider locals only for housekeeping and other menial work. The pay is also very less. The government should intervene and help the poor,” Arif, who is employed in one of the industries, told South First.
Ballari, Koppal, Chitradurga and Vijayanagara districts are entitled to get funds from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF).
The DMF funds are meant for mining-affected people and areas. People in Ballari alleged that the funds were being diverted and allotted to other purposes.
“The DMF has over ₹25,000 crore in its kitty. It is hardly being utilised in the mining-affected areas. Instead, it is being used in areas regions that are not even connected to mining,” activist Tapal Ganesh, who also owns mines, alleged.
“The funds are being utilised to build clocktowers, junctions and statues instead of spending it on developing the mining-affected areas in Ballari. There is no one to question the authority,” he told South First.
Purushottam Gouda alleged that the government is planning to divert ₹6,000 crore from the DMF fund to construct an alternative water reservoir across the Tungabhadra at Navali.
“They cannot use the DMF funds. It is illegal to divert the funds,” he quipped.
South First visited Janekunte, Bellagal and Haraginadoni, three villages facing the brunt of mining. All three have poor infrastructure in terms of drinking water, roads, schools, and health.
The incumbent BJP government’s decision to provide a six percent reservation quota hike for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and STs evoked a mixed response in Ballari Rural.
The Basavaraj Bommai-led-Karnataka-government passed the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Education Institutions and Appointments of Posts in the Services Under the State) Bill, 2022 in December 2022.
The Bill will increase the reservation for SCs from 15 to 17 percent, and STs from three to seven percent. However, this could be implemented only when the Union Government includes the proposal in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution.
In the segment, Banjaras are unhappy with the internal reservations and blame the BJP for conspiring against the community to keep it out of the SC list.
“The government claims that it has increased the reservation for the Banjaras and three communities from 3 to 4.5 percent. In reality, we get only one percent reservation,” Banjara community leader Chandru Naik, who is a resident of B Belagal Thanda, told South First.
“This reservation matrix will not help the community. The youth of the community will barely get opportunities for education and jobs. The BJP is anti-Banjara. We will show our strength in this election,” Naik fumed.
Meanwhile, the SCs and STs are both happy and sceptical over the reservation hike.
“The government claims that it has hiked the quota for SCs and STs. We won’t believe it until the Union government includes it in the 9th Schedule,” farmer B Yellappa told South First.
“The BJP promised that it would give a quota hike soon after coming to power in 2018 but did not bother to do so in the past three years. Even one of our seers staged a protest. The government did not respond,” he pointed out.
“Now, it has been done in the election year. It is just an election gimmick. The political leaders should not play with the emotions of the people,” Yellappa did not hide his disappointment
Ballari Rural Assembly seat is reserved for Scheduled Tribe. SCs, STs, Kurubas, Lingayats, and Muslims are the influential voters.
The SCs and STs combined have over one lakh votes, Muslims have around 40,000 votes, Kurubas have over 25,000 votes, and Lingayats and others make up the remaining votes.
There are 2.38 lakh voters. In the segment women voters outnumber men. Of the total electorate, women comprise 1,22 lakh and men, 1.15 lakh.