The woody smell, the verdant stretch, the slight nip in the air, and you know you are in Kodagu, Karnataka. Nature here has its own ‘welcome’ signs; the signposts, idle, must be going green with envy.
But conservationists in Kodagu are seeing red over “unwanted and unwarranted projects” that are destroying the natural landscape of the hill district. “In 2015-2016, over 54,000 trees were felled in Kodagu for the purpose of the Mysore-Kozhikode power line,” said Colonel (retired) C.P. Muthanna, president of the Coorg Wildlife Society. “Now there are proposals for two railway lines and a national highway through Kodagu. These projects are nothing but scams that will benefit the Kerala timber lobby, work contractors and some corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.”
On June 2, under the blue canopy of a fluffy sky, members of the Coorg Wildlife Society and several other organisations like Save River Cauvery Forum and Kodava Samaja, Madikeri, held a protest rally from Madikeri Fort to the city municipal hall.
“Through the Right to Information Act, we have [learnt] that the Mysuru-Kushalnagar railway line will be up to Makkandur near Madikeri. The total budget is Rs1,587 crore,” said Col Muthanna. “There is another railway line proposed from Thalassery in Kerala to Mysuru via south Kodagu, and there is a strong attempt by the Kerala government to commence the construction of this railway line, which will cost Rs3,700 crore.”
The destruction of the green cover will also lead to the degradation of the River Cauvery, which originates in Kodagu. “Trees are the lifeline of rivers,” said Devika Devaiah, a core team member of Save River Cauvery Forum. “We are not against development; we are against putting pressure on the catchment area of the Cauvery.”
Also, activists here do not buy the accessibility argument. Devaiah, who lives in Bengaluru but calls Kodagu her home, said that it took her only a four-and-a-half-hour-long drive to reach Madikeri for the protest rally. “Access already exists,” she said, adding that Kodagu needed ecotourism, not mass tourism.
The conservationists met Kodagu’s deputy commissioner Richard Vincent D’Souza and submitted a memorandum demanding the cancellation of the projects. “As of now, I have no information on the upcoming projects,” D’Souza told THE WEEK. “We are committed to protecting the environment. But, development should also take place. We have to strike a balance between the two.”