Rebuilding Kodagu: 'Don’t know what the plan is'

There are positives like model house prototypes being built and land for housing identified. But these ad hoc exercises aren’t going to carry us far. DH Photo by BH Shivakumar

In the middle of August, standing on a balcony overlooking Madikeri town, the incessant rains gave this eerie feeling that it was not alright. It later turned out to be about 40 cm of rain per day. That is about 4% of what falls on Chirapunji, the world’s wettest place, in a whole year! About 12% of Chirapunji’s yearly rain showered on Kodagu in just three days. I hadn’t witnessed anything like that in my 50 years. What resulted was the unprecedented devastation of 34 villages in six Gram Panchayats.

We are given many reasons for the disaster by different interest groups — alleged mismanagement at the sanctum sanctorum of Mother Cauvery, said a few religiously inclined; just unexpectedly heavy rains, said the politically affiliated; interference in the landscape, said a group of “We told you so” environmentalists.

None of these interest groups have based their reasons on any scientific study. What should seriously be considered are the reports of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), the government machinery tasked to find out the truth. The report claims that the GSI team visited 85 affected spots. Excess rainfall, lack of proper drainage and lack of toe-support are listed. The question being asked is, why only a few places witnessed the devastation while there are hundreds of other places with similar characteristics. This fair question needs to be answered. However, what seems to be lost on all of us is that we are part of nature and can’t fiddle with its rules. Alas, greed knows no bounds.

While this reasoning circus is going on at one level, on the ground there are other kinds unfolding. There was a ground-breaking ceremony for the lonely disaster management project proposed in the Kodagu Disaster Management Plan 2017-18 at a cost of Rs 30 crore. It is an overhead bridge at the serene Bhagamandala, the confluence of the rivers Cauvery, Kanike and Sujyothi. At this sacred spot, the intended project is to prevent disconnection of villages when the ‘sangama’ swells up during peak rains.

There is no document available in the public domain about how this lone project was planned — though the plan mandates community members discussing its various aspects, focus group discussions, observation, interviews, questionnaires and secondary data usage while planning. Absence of participatory exploration and planning is hurting us bad in every project everywhere but the administration seems hell bent on having its own secret ways. 

This pattern of non-participatory planning, done in secrecy, is plaguing the current phase of rehabilitation work, which has come to a grinding halt. The rescue and relief response was swift and the district administration was much appreciated for its efforts in the initial days. The 51 temporary shelters organised across the devastation zone have come down to five and the number of victims housed in them from 8,853 to 530. The administration claims to have distributed compensation, put children back in schools, restored connectivity temporarily. There is no report of what was done or distributed in the public domain.

Discontent among victims

The discontent and frustration of victims is slowly spilling out into the open with groups from the villages threatening to go on strike for want of information and action. They are upset that the assessment did not involve the panchayats, the assessment reports are not shared, nor any information provided on the future course of action. What they get is news bytes from the media.

Why can’t the government share the assessment report with the victims which, as per media reports, claims damage of Rs 2,000 crore. Unless the executive overcomes the secrecy hangover, the rehabilitation exercise will only be a painful rubbing of salt on the wounds of victims. Moreover, does not the RTI mandate that all data, decisions and the reasoning adopted be put in the public domain proactively!

There are positives like model house prototypes being built and land for housing identified. But these ad hoc exercises aren’t going to carry us far. Even after 100 days, the most basic yet critical rehabilitation plan is nowhere to be seen. There is no sign of the grand coordinating committee promised two months ago, either. This phase looks disjointed and directionless. We haven’t even cleared the mud-ridden houses in the heart of Madikeri.

What we need immediately are: A time-bound rehabilitation plan, covering not just the physical infrastructure like the house or the road but also socio-economic aspects of the victims’ lives. The assessment report has to be first discussed with the victims in the open and confirmed. This should form the basis for evolving the implementation plan with victims. It should also specify the role and responsibilities, including local bodies with timelines; an administratively sound and people-oriented officer as anchor. S/he should not be engaged in any other exercise and must see through the implementation process; a committee consisting of the executive and victims.

It should oversee the coordination and implementation of the plan, with regular monitoring; a separate cost centre must be set up to track expenditure. The fund flow must be tracked in the public domain, like in the MGNREGS; social audit of works should be carried out by the team of victims, again like in MGNREGS where the process is comprehensive. Here, the role of local bodies comes to the fore. Decentralised execution is the need of the hour.

If we don’t put these basics in place, the upcoming ground-breaking ceremony for the housing project by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy on December 8 and all such ceremonies will remain ad hoc patch-work exercises. We need a proactive approach now, not later. And it should be firmly based on scientific principles. 

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Rebuilding Kodagu: 'Don’t know what the plan is'

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