Having stopped growing paddy five years ago, these farmers now buy rice from the shop with borrowed money. This, in a way, denotes their lives rendered upside down and now, they want to set it right.
These agriculturists in eight villages coming under the Hongadahalla and Vanagur Gram Panchayats are so beset by problems that they are ready to give up their lands to be included in the elephant corridor. They constantly live under the fear of wild animals entering their villages any moment and feasting on or destroying crops, including commercial ones like coffee and cardamom.
On Wednesday, during a meeting chaired by Deputy Commissioner (DC) Umesh Kusugal, they demanded that they should be rehabilitated with proper compensation, in return for the farmlands.
The meeting was held at Kaginahare village, bordering the Western Ghats forest and 60 km from Sakleshpur, the taluk headquarters. Farmers who participated submitted consent letters that they were ready to part with their land.
Their children do not go to school as family finances are in dire straits. Neither are these farmers able to marry off their daughters. Whatever farm produce is left behind by the animals are consumed by rainfall, 250 inches per year on an average, or the various diseases. The farmers said that they may be on the verge of committing suicide, like many of their counterparts in other parts of the State.
In fact, these farmers have all these years sent letter after letter to the chief minister, the forest minister, the DC, the deputy conservator of forests, parliamentarians and legislators, offering land for the elephant corridor, but things seem to be moving only now.
They have sought a minimum of Rs 30 lakh per acre and proper rehabilitation. The farmers said at the meeting that even agriculture workers who do not own land should be given compensation and alternative land for cultivation. They want to be compensated for houses or trees that they may lose in the process. The farmers want monetary aid for crop loss, till the elephant corridor is created.
However, the meeting had its share of naysayers too, unwilling to give up land to be converted into forest, including Hongadahalla GP president Sunitha Prakash.
DC Kusugal said that he was aware of problems like lack of educational and health facilities in these remote villages. Yet, life in a faraway town or city was difficult, especially for small landholders who would not get much compensation. Living with animals was a better option, he said.
However, if people decide that life is completely untenable in the forest, he would take steps for acquiring their land. A total of 416 families in eight villages have given consent letters to part with 2,261 acres of their land.