It started a few weeks back, when a group of people from the tiny district of Karnataka, Kodagu had decided to take the orthodox way of protesting against the government to a whole new level. They sounded innovative and the zeal to accomplish their mission was commendable. The zeal that I am referring is to stop railways from entering Kodagu. Kodagu occupies an area of 4,122 square kilometres in the Western Ghats of southwestern Karnataka. Home to about 5 Lakh population, this district is known for its densely populated forest and wildlife, Kodagu is also the largest producer of coffee in India with an annual production of 122,120 tonnes, hometown to Field Marshal Cariappa and General Thimmaiah, Kodagu is popularly known as Scotland of India, Kashmir of Karnataka and The land of Hockey. Kodagu is the only district in Karnataka which still doesn’t have a railway connectivity and never did the people of the district want one. With India developing at a rapid growth rate of 7.20 percent and cities becoming smarter why would someone oppose railway connectivity would be the most common question ! But the concerns of people of Kodagu is genuine and alarming not only for the district but for Karnataka as a whole. The railways to Kodagu was proposed in this year’s budget. Environment activist Sundar Muthanna and the Save Kodagu team claim the railways to Kodagu will destroy lakhs of trees which are more than 100 years old and hold the key to environment balance in the region.
They say the estates and forests here are the main rain catchment area for the River Cauvery. 50% of the volume of water in the River is from here, and this volume has been decreasing steadily. For a railway track to be laid, lakhs and lakhs of trees will need to be cut in this ecologically sensitive area.
The River Cauvery is the lifeline of South India and provides water to over 80 million (8 crores) people, and 600 major industries across the region. It is therefore in the National Interest to preserve the Coorg ecology.
The food, water and economic security of Southern Karnataka and Tamil Nadu hinge largely on the Cauvery River. In Karnataka, these regions include the citizens and farmers of Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and Coorg. And in Tamil Nadu, it covers the districts of Salem, Erode, Trichy, Thanjavur, and Nagapattinam.
Simply put, no trees in Coorg means no River Cauvery. Every tree holds 30,000 to 40,000 litres of water, its roots release water underground to form tiny streams, and its leaves give off moisture into the air to create humidity that invites rain from passing clouds. The sad truth is that already lakhs of trees have been cut for various so-called development projects. A high-tension power line that could have gone down the coast of Karnataka, instead of coming inland to cut over 50,000 trees in the forests of Coorg. A road-widening to highway standards project is ongoing. Four new species of trees were added to the list of trees that can be cut as timber. This has caused a further loss of lakhs of trees within the last year.
Kodagu is the Water Tank of Bangalore. Kodagu being a hilly and forested area the River Cauvery is born here. And it is the Cauvery that provides IT city Bangalore, with its drinking water.
The activists are furious about WHY SPEND RS. 1800 CRORE FOR A RAILWAY TRACK THAT HAS BEEN FOUND ECONOMICALLY NOT VIABLE? The government representatives have always maintained that railways will only connect till Kushalnagar which is 26 kms away from the heart of Kodagu, however, the recent RTI applied by an Activist says Railways will enter Kodagu and will be stationed at Makandoor which is about 6 kms near Mukkodlu which is again an eco-sensitive area.
Earlier studies done by the Railway Department of the economic feasibility of this route, have declared that this track is not financially viable. The population of Coorg and the potential traffic of customers do not call for a railway track. The track if executed will be done at a cost Rs. 1800 crores, the returns are far too small to justify this large expense. Activists say why to waste so much money for a population of just 5 lakh rather This money can be used for more urgent and important purposes in the Country. The excuse of promoting tourism is being given by the Govt, but the truth is there are already too many resorts and home stays, and stinking piles of garbage are lining many of the roads. Another excuse given by the Government is that the coffee grown here can be sent by train to Mangalore port, but the fact is that coffee is already being despatched by road, quite efficiently and economically.
The pro-Kannada organizations which always had a special affection towards Cauvery and Kodagu have also joined the cause to stop railways. They say railways to Kodagu will destroy lakhs of trees and this would naturally make life difficult for the entire Karnataka due to climatic changes and variation in rainfall in the district. The activist also fear it is just a matter of time when the railway track could be extended to Kerala which could result in more border encroachment which is already an issue they are concerned with.
Environmentalists say For the railway track to enter Coorg district, it has to overcome the many laws which are intended to protect a hilly, forested, tribal district. Therefore, once the railway track enters this district it will definitely travel further to Madikeri, and then criss-cross all over the district to the borders with Kerala, and the borders of the Karnataka districts of Dakshina Kannada and Hassan. The biggest losers in this tragedy will be the 8 crore people of Karnataka (including Bangalore), and Tamil Nadu, who depend on the River Cauvery. The tree loss from the railway track entering Coorg would be so much that it is difficult to calculate, and the long-term effect on the climate and water supply is difficult to predict. Though the heat wave conditions of the summer of 2016, and the water shortage, gave us an unpleasant taste of things to come.
With so many issues pro-environment organizations like Cavery Sene ,Coorg Wildlife Society and Save Kodagu have already protested enough on ground level but their plead seems to be falling on deaf ears hence they have now decided to take the fight online. Activist from Save Kodagu says they have run many online fight in the past and they have succeeded. These activist are requesting people from the district and across Karnataka to sign a online petition (Https://goo.gl/RKceMM) which they would present to government. They are also twitting to top officials to look into their plead. Their fight seems to be shaping up quite well with more than 12 thousand people signing their petition against development at the cost of nature and just a couple of days back Railways minister tweeted back to one of the activist advising he and his team would look into the issue. The campaign seemed very innovative to me since the activist are motivating people to click a selfi with a glass of water and tag their friends on social media so more and more people are aware of this and with celebrities like Nikhil Chinappa a popular RJ, Actor Milind Soman, Tamil Actor Vijay Rai, Bollywood script writer Juhi Chaturvedi and so on pitching in their support will only make the campaign stronger. Humans have lived without love, not one has lived without water. It takes a lot of blue to stay green. Kodagu being the water tank of South Karnataka and Tamil Nadu should be preserved from deforestation of any form.