Malayali farmers in K'taka border areas in dire straits

Malayali farmers in Karanataka border areas in dire straits

Scores of Malayali farmers in Kodagu and nearby border areas of Karnataka are venturing through dense forests and even crossing rivers to reach Kerala during the lockdown days.

Even as the authorities are initiating steps to issue passes for the Malayalis stranded in other states to enter Kerala, the farmers are opting the illegal route in order to skip the mandatory quarantining. Many farmers also prefer to stay back at their farms as they would not be able to return until the lockdown was lifted if they cross over to Kerala.

Around 60 Malayali farmers who tried to illegally cross through forest areas were detained and kept in Corona care centres in Kerala. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that forest, police and revenue officials would conduct joint operations to curb illegal border crossing.

It is roughly estimated that there are over 30,000 Malayali farmers spread across Kodagu, Mysore and Shimoga, mostly engaged in ginger cultivation. An association of ginger farmers alone has a membership of around 18,000. The majority of them are settled in Kerala, especially Wayanad and nearby Kannur districts. They used to frequently travel between their farms in Karnataka and their home in Kerala. Since it was the harvest season, most farmers were at their farms in Karnataka when the lockdown came, and hence they were stranded there.

According to a forest department official, even as patrolling in forest areas were enhanced, many parts of Kerala - Karnataka border have dense forest areas on Karnataka's side while it would be either revenue or private plantations on Kerala side. Many illegal border crossings were allegedly taking place through such areas of Kannur. There were also reports that some were even swimming across the Kabani river.

Ginger Farmers Association general secretary Mohan N, who was among the score of Malayali farmers held up in Kodagu - Mysore areas told DH that even as there was an option of getting the pass to enter Kerala many farmers were not availing it as they fear of being quarantined on reaching Kerala. Moreover, they would be able to return to their farms in Karnataka only after the lockdown was relaxed. It is harvesting season and time to initiate the next crop. Hence many farmers were reluctant to leave their farms indefinitely as around Rs. 5 lakh is invested per acre of land, he said.

Mohan also said that most of the farmers were staying in the makeshift sheds on the farms. Though the farmers were getting adequate food, many were facing an indifferent attitude from the local people of Karnataka as they consider Kerala as COVID 19's hotspot as first COVID case in India was reported in Kerala and there was a spike in the COVID-19 cases in Kasargod district. Many Kannadiga workers were also showing reluctance to work in plantations of Malayalis, he said.