Fighting a losing battle

DEVELOPMENT

Fighting a losing battle

Reduced to craters: The fields of farmers who gave away their land as part of a contract to industrialists have come to resemble an excavated township. Photo by the author

Farmers belonging to Saligrama hobli at K R Nagar in Mysore district and those belonging to Hallimysore hobli in Holenarasipur taluk of Hassan district are in a tight spot today. They sold soil from the fields they owned by the truckloads to industrialists at a time when there was no water from the Hemavathi to feed their fields. Today, when plenty of Hemavathi water reaches their fields, they no longer have irrigable land! 

Some farmers in the region reap rich harvests, and are leading a comfortable life. All crops including paddy and sugarcane are grown here. Also, at times when the water from the canals don’t reach the fields, they grow maize and ragi.  Most farmers in the region have work round the year.

Before the Hemavathi...
It has been several years since the Hemavathi canal has been constructed. But, the region in and around Saligrama hobli did not receive water from the last eight to ten years because the villages in this region happen to be at the tail-end of the canal. It was difficult to grow anything in the region.  Because farmers here were heavily dependent on rain, they were not able to feed their families during the non-rainy season, in spite of owning at least five acres of land each. Pushed to the brink, some of them even decided to migrate. At that point, an industrialist from Mysore landed at the doorstep of these farmers. He showed interest in hiring their land on a contractual basis. The reason: The soil there was conducive for the manufacture of water and sanitary pipes.
 
Line-up for industrialists
Soon, there was a line-up of industrialists at the doorsteps of farmers, who were all-too eager to offer their land for contract. This process of mining the soil for making pipes needed the approval of Department of Mines and Geology. But, the industrialists gained an approval after telling the department that they were mining limestone. Farmers gave their lands in contract for a price of Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for every acre. It was a huge sum, especially in times of need. They were thrilled that their dry land was actually of some use, and brought them monetary gains. Soon, they decided not to blindly offer their land in contract, but instead demanded a price for every truckload of soil.

March of the earthmovers
The industrialists agreed to offer anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 500 for every load of soil. Soon, big earthmovers started to make their presence on the fields.  Lorries started to load the soil and move in and out of the villages. Initially, everything seemed alright. The farmers were happy, the industrialists were happy. Every day, at least 10-12 loads of soil were being dug out.  The fields started to resemble excavated townships with 30-50 feet deep pits all over.

Life began to change for villages in and around Kalammanakoppalu in Saligrama hobli, hamlets adjoining the Saligrama-Ramanathapura main road, Bherya and Halli Mysore regions.

Now, there is water from the canals  and this has meant that the fields of farmers who have not given away their lands are green. The farmers who sold the soil can no longer irrigate their lands, which are full of craters now. Water from the canals have filled up the dug-up pits. This has meant that the soil is no longer of use for manufacturing pipes.  The farmers have used up all the money they earned from the industrialists.  Their fields have disappeared, but their neighbours’ fields are green, causing much envy to the farmers who have lost everything. 

But, what’s surprising is that the earthmovers are still being brought, to see if there is anymore land that could be used. Will they be able to trap more farmers? Or have they learnt their lessons?
(Translated by Savitha Karthik)

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