Saving Kodagu

Saving Kodagu

Saving Kodagu

Kodira A Kushalapa writes why there is an urgent and dire need to protect the natural landscape of Kodagu, the “Scotland of India”.

The erstwhile state of Kodagu is now a district in Karnataka with nature and culture, that require immediate efforts to conserve, not only for the present, but also for the future generations to survive.

The district is partly located on the Western Ghats with a portion on the east.

The Western Ghats is considered an ecologically sensitive area and requires careful scientific approach in its development and management, failing which, it will have adverse impacts on the entire southern part of India.

Under Article 48A of the constitution, the government is under an obligation to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Under Article 51A(g), likewise, each one of us as citizens, has the obligation to “protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.” There are several issues that require careful and urgent handling.

Paddy cultivation

The district, on an average, receives over 2500 mm of rainfall annually and is ideally suited for rain-fed paddy cultivation.

People were cultivating only paddy till the British invasion in 1834 and took up coffee cultivation subsequently.

Now, only 10 to 12 per cent of its total area is under paddy. It is been discovered recently that paddy cultivation is not economical and farmers are diverting their paddy fields for cultivating cash crops or for construction, without any concern and forethought.

This has increased the run-off during the rainy season, resulting in flash floods, damaging the lands by accelerated soil erosion. Paddy cultivation was impounding rainwater for about 100 in paddy fields, allowing slow infiltration enriching the subsoil groundwater.

This would be beneficial to us later, due to slow release of the groundwater, to maintain continuous flow in rivers.

Now the rivers are almost dry during summer, indicating that there is a need for encouraging paddy cultivation all over Kodagu district by introducing incentives, subsidy and support price.

The government should immediately prohibit conversion and use of paddy fields for any other purpose, like it has been done in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada.

Another issue which needs immediate attention is reduction of crop damage by wild animals, which has forced many farmers to abandon paddy cultivation.

Forest conservation

Nearly 31 per cent of the geographical area of Kodagu is under forests managed by the government. Tropical evergreen forests dot this landscape.

Any disturbance to them will make the area barren, like we see around Talacauvery, where the once dense forests have now been reduced to grasslands due to continuous use of wood by pilgrims.

These lands are so degraded with poor nutrient top soils, that reforestation has become a hard task.

The forests have to be protected to facilitate infiltration of rainwater and to prevent accelerated soil erosion.

Natural forests once destroyed cannot be recreated and reforestation can only create plantations.

The various forest and wildlife acts should be strictly implemented and the persons who violate them should be suitably punished.

Relocation

There are a number of cases of encroachment in the forests. Even high forests like Devarakadu and national parks have been encroached upon, where wildlife need relocation and rehabilitation, outside the forests and possibly even out of Kodagu district to drier areas suitable for agriculture.

The Forest Rights Act envisages the issue of khatha to all tribals and others, residing inside forests for 2 to 3 generations, not to continue there only inside the forests, but as an important document to get equal areas outside forests during relocation.

The union government is committed to grant Rs 10 lakh per family during the relocation to bigger and compact blocks.

Fodder development is another important activity to contain wild animals inside government forests. The flowering of bamboos has left only dried clumps and have become hazardous to forest fires.

Grass and other fodder species have been destroyed and invaded by lantana and other weeds as ground flora, preventing natural regeneration of native species.

It is impossible to raise any fodder plants now in government forests unless large blocks or compartments are properly fenced and protected and then planted with tall seedlings of fodder species annually to cover the entire forests.

In addition, profuse aerial seeding of treated bamboo and other miscellaneous seeds should be taken up with the onset of monsoon all over the forests.

The old plantations of teak covering over 7000 ha in Nagarhole National Park and other areas should be harvested and liquidated in a phased manner (with special permission of the Central government) and followed  by planting of bamboo seedlings to develop fodder resources to wild animals.

The forest department should give priority for creating barriers along the boundaries of government forests and develop fodder resources for herbivores inside such forests.


Development of tourism


Kodagu has attracted tourists from all over the world, creating irreparable damage to the landscape.

The presence of numerous resorts and homestays all over the district has attracted more tourists resulting in landslides, water scarcity, waste management problems, bad roads, felling of trees for constructing houses, influx of outsiders for business and settlement and high cost of living.

There is no proper guidance and control for activities like registration of homestays and resorts, study of environmental impact assessment and carrying capacity of every activity.

The building and house constructions have been taken up on steep terrains as seen in Madikeri and Virajpet landscapes, making the hills barren.

The riverside areas are all occupied unauthorisedly, polluting river water.

There is a need to control and restrict the tourists coming to Kodagu, by studying the carrying capacity of land involved in every activity and their impact on environment and framing suitable guidelines.

Management of private forests

Nearly 75 per cent of the area in the district is covered by trees.

Coffee estates maintain sufficient shade trees per ha in which silver oak gets precedence due to its faster rate of growth, straightness of bole, multiple use of wood for planks, furniture, peeling, plywood etc and exempted from felling and transit permits and fetches revenue returns in about 30 years.

However, its cultivation should be restricted to allow other indigenous species to maintain biodiversity, to facilitate birds and bees to control pests and increase pollination.

Jamma malai and Jamma bane land holders who have also maintained trees in their land should be given tree rights as an incentive to grow more trees to supplement their income when necessary.

There is, however, a section in the Karnataka Forest Act with a provision to take over the management of private forests by forest department, if the owners violate the provisions of the Act and management principles. This would be binding on the owners to protect the standing trees.

Under the provisions of Karnataka Protection of Trees Act, if a tree is felled, double the number of seedlings should be planted by the owners and this would ensure the sustainability of tree cover.

Therefore the ownership rights of the trees should be with the owners.

Land ownership

Jamma land holders have been enjoying the land tenure even before the rule of Lingayat Rajas, who surveyed, documented and levied necessary land tax.

The Bane lands attached to paddy fields called Jamma Bane, in many families, have been converted into coffee and other plantations and by paying necessary tax, are now the property of those families.

The Jamma malai owners have been negotiating with the government to surrender their privileges for a reasonable compensation, which should be accepted as these malais are situated on the ecologically sensitive hill ranges and the composition is similar to natural evergreen forest types.

Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds could be utilised to pay compensation. Necessary amendments to the KF Act should be introduced to make the families of Jamma holders as the rightful owners of Jamma lands.

However, to safeguard the unique culture of natives of Kodagu, the sale of their Jamma property should be prohibited, except for other Jamma holders only.

High Tension 400 kV line

The proposal to draw a 400 kV line, partly along the reserve forest, private wetlands and coffee estates was met with stiff opposition from local people.

There are several alternate routes available, such as, along the Mysore-Kodagu forest boundary line, or by upgrading the older available 220 kV line or taking through an underground tunnel (not feasible here) without clearing much forest growth.

Amendment 4.4 to the FC Act issued by Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) on January 7, 2013, indicates that for linear projects, alternate routes, if available should be indicated and availed of, so that forest lands are saved.

This linear project should be aligned outside the protected area without any consideration of increased cost and accordingly the MoEF may be appraised to allow the HT line through alternate non-forest areas.

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