Away from prying eyes...

Awaiting development

Away from prying eyes...

Nestled in the lap of nature, deep inside the Western Ghats in Dakshina Kannada, is the tiny tribal hamlet of Banjarumale. Cut off from the rest of the world, this village is desperate for development, says Ronald Anil Fernandes.

Most cities in Karnataka, and, perhaps, in India too, quite often face two problems — shortage of drinking water and erratic power supply. Their plight is miserable, especially in peak summer. However, Banjarumale, a tiny village within the Neriya Gram Panchayat limits in Belthangady taluk of Dakshina Kannada district, is an exception. Located about 90 km from Mangalore, this tribal hamlet never faces a shortage of water or power supply, thanks to a perennial source of water — a mountain stream — that passes through the village, which is home to 125 people.

A long way home

Despite the abundance of water, the 25 families of Malekudiyas have a heavy cross to bear. Their region is one of the very few places in the district which is still not easily accessible. Almost cut off from the world, the nearest petty shop is 20 km away and the nearest school is 25 km away. 

However, there is a residential school, the Ashram school in Neriya, where local children study. The nearest Primary Health Centre (PHC) too is 25 km away and the last time a doctor visited the centre was an year ago! The only road to the village is through the Charmadi Ghat. One can take a diversion at the ninth curve of the Ghat (about 30 km from Belthangady and nine kilometres from Kakkinje) and travel nine kilometres into the dense forest to get there. One can avail jeeps by paying anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 to travel the nine kilometres which is a journey of more than an hour.

The crystal clear water that flows round the year is a boon. Realising its potential, the tribals, with the help of the district administration, Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) and Technology Informatics Design Endeavour, set up an 8 kW micro-hydel power project in 2002.

Some solace 

Recalling the initial struggle, the then president of Banjarumale Micro-Hydel Power Project Implementation Committee A B Annappa says the villagers themselves constructed a 650 metres channel from the stream to the power station and undertook other civil works. Each house contributed around Rs 7,500, while the government extended Rs 6 lakh, and the SKDRDP gave Rs 2 lakh. He adds that each family pays Rs 100 per month as maintenance cost for the power supply availed, and a villager has been appointed to manage the station.

Prakash, the villager who has been assigned with the task, switches the turbine on at 6 pm everyday and switches it off at 8 am the next day. He says the capacity of the unit has now come down to 3 - 4 kW and there are a couple of houses which do not get power supply, and continue to depend on kerosene lamps.

GP member Krishnappa says the villagers use the power supply only at night as they fear the youth and children may waste time watching television if there was power during the day. A couple of houses have television sets while two houses have Wireless in Local Loop telephone connections. A few youths have mobile phones, but they have to climb a hill to get network, and only if they are lucky!

Interestingly, about eight to ten villagers have set up their own micro-hydel units of 1 kW capacity and use it during the day. Annappa, one of the villagers with such a unit, says he uses it to turn on the lights, the telephone and the TV set.

Still, it’s a tough life

The tribals were earlier cultivating paddy, but they shifted to arecanut, coconut, rubber and banana after wild elephants, boars, buffaloes and monkeys began foraging their plantations for food. Many Malekudiyas work in nearby estates too.

In spite of all odds, the villagers manage well and have only a few basic demands — they want the existing road to be repaired so that vehicles can reach the village and the sick can get help quickly; a bridge to be constructed of across Sunalu river and Lakkdarpe stream; and a doctor to be appointed for the PHC at Neriya.

“Other than this, we are happy as we don’t get newspapers and are hence unaware of happenings in the world,” says villager Laxman, in a lighter vein. Few youths have left the village in search of greener pastures.

A shocking fact is that no deputy commissioner has ever visited this village, except for former DC S K Das who made an attempt in 1983, but returned halfway as the river’s water-level had risen. Interestingly, the village had constructed a stage to welcome Das, but he never made it, and, since then, it is known as ‘DC Katte’. The villagers continue to wait for a DC to listen to their woes.

The paradox that is Banjarumale becomes clear when, despite all its shortcomings, the village is a paradise for visitors. They are welcomed by the sweet sounds and magnificent sights of the numerous natural waterfalls, the sounds of insects and the chirping of birds. The place has the added advantage of clean air as there is no vehicular pollution.

On the other hand, as far as the villagers are concerned, it’s a familiar trudge up to Belthangady once a week or once a month for necessary goods, where they walk 10 km to the main road to take a bus to Belthangady, and the sounds and sights hardly matter.

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