Jayakara turns a couple of corners after crossing the main road from the Jodupala bus stand before trekking up a slush-filled path that cuts through a coffee plantation on the way to his home. He casually sidesteps a squirrel charging across his path before stopping to wave back at a group of plantation workers returning from the top of the hill.
He is lost for a moment and needs the help of a worker to point him towards a cluster of cashew trees. He immediately recognises the trees and sets off again. â€śI come to my village every day to see my house and feed the dogs but sometimes, I donâ€™t recognise the shortcuts I used to take anymore,â€ť he says, over the sounds of a bird calling out at sunrise and the unvarying drone of a JCB excavator at work nearby.
Jayakara MT (29), who works as a labourer in coffee and pepper plantations, is on his daily visit to his home in Eradane Monnangeri, a village around 14 kilometres from Madikeri in Kodagu district of Karnataka.
Jayakara on his way to his house at Eradane Monnangeri in Kodagu.
Around two months ago, the village was wiped out by devastating floods and landslides in the region. â€śA landslide occurred on the top of the hill and the mud came crashing down carrying everything in its path - trees, electric poles and houses,â€ť recounts Jayakara, as he makes his way through the cluster of cashew trees. On the other side, a small house with a tiled roof is on the verge of collapse.
Jayakara's house at Eradane Monnangeri in Kodagu.
â€śI am afraid to go home and stay there now, especially when there is a hint of rain. I donâ€™t know if I will ever go back to our village,â€ť adds Jayakara, now seated on the jagali (sit-out) of his house. His dog Anthony leaps out of his slumber and greets his master with a wide open mouth.
Jayakara and his mother Rohini (60) left their home in Eradane Monnangeri on the night of the landslides in Kodagu in August this year. They have been living in a relief camp at the Government Higher Primary School in Kallugundi, around 15 kilometres away, for the last fifty days.
Inside Jayakara's residence at Eradane Monnangeri in Kodagu.
Rebuilding lives from scratch
Eradane Monnangeri was one of the worst affected villages during the floods and landslides in Kodagu district in August this year. As many as 197 houses in the village were damaged, more than in any other village in the district. Kodagu received over 200 mm rainfall on three consecutive days, on August 15, 16 and 17, according to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC). It was the highest amount of rainfall in Kodagu in 87 years and it forced 6999 people to take shelter in 55 relief camps set up by the authorities in the district. The authorities also confirmed that 18 people died due to rains in the district since April this year.
Debris being cleared on the road to Eradane Monnangeri in Kodagu.
Even today, almost two months after the landslides, 674 people continue to live in 8 relief camps, not knowing when they can return to their houses or in some cases, when they will be resettled in a new house. Jayakara is one of 587 people whose houses were severely damaged due to the landslides while 1636 others have suffered partial damages to their houses. 285 people in the district have seen their house simply washed away or collapse completely due to the landslides.
Responding to the disaster, the Kodagu district administration, along with the Indian Armyâ€™s Dogra and Madras Engineering Group (MEG) regiments, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Civil Defence, coordinated rescue operations which lasted almost a week from August 16.
Landslide as seen from Eradane Monnangeri in Kodagu.
After the rescue operations ended on August 23, the district authorities concentrated on clearing the huge tracts of mud piled up on the roads of the district, and improving connectivity to areas that were cut off. JCB excavators could be seen clearing mud in several high-altitude areas in the district while parts of roads have been cordoned off and padded with cement bags in some areas to ensure that a repeat of the landslides will not result in loss of lives. However, a few areas like Makkandur village near Madikeri are still cut off by road and residents have to trek at least two kilometres to enter the village from the main road.
Access was cut off in many areas including the road to Makkandur in Kodagu.
The authorities have discussed long-term and short-term measures after consulting geologists of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) who visited 85 locations in the district to study the effects of the disaster and ensure that the authorities are better prepared in the future. â€śThey (GSI officials) have given long-term and short-term suggestions for the future. These measures include installing retaining walls, proper drainage systems, strengthening the slopes by using retrieval grass, along with improving awareness among the residents. We will follow their suggestions and make the community aware of them,â€ť confirmed Sreevidya PI, Deputy Commissioner (DC), Kodagu.
Map of Kodagu district in Karnataka.
In September, officials of the Revenue Department and the Gram Panchayats of affected villages conducted a survey of the affected areas and identified people who have partially or completely lost their houses. The officials made the findings of the survey public on September 29 and gave survivors time till October 4 to raise objections to the surveyâ€™s findings. The authorities are now focused on rehabilitating the people who have lost their homes by rebuilding houses for them elsewhere, a process that has been plagued by procedural delays so far. â€śMany of the people have gone back to the villages and life in the affected areas has almost come back to normalcy. There is still miles to go. We have a lot of things to do particularly on rebuilding houses and rehabilitating people, and we are working out various options. We have received applications and are in the process of allotting the land to people who have lost their homes,â€ť says Sreevidya.
The officials have identified land in areas including in Kannangeri, Made, Gaalibeedu, Yedavanadu and Sampaje, to build houses and are planning to rehabilitate landowners whose houses are damaged. According to Suryaprakash, an official of the Revenue Department in Madikeri taluk, 647 people have been allotted land in which new houses will be built for them to resettle.
A car submerged near Mukkodlu in Kodagu.
This, however, does not include hundreds of labourers who were living in rented facilities in and around coffee and pepper plantations in the district. â€śThose who were living in rented facilities will not be given free houses but they will be rehabilitated through the Panchayat Housing Scheme. The village Panchayat will identify the land and house them,â€ś adds Sreevidya.
A temporary compensation of Rs. 3,800 was given to all those who were housed in relief camps by the state government. A few residents whose houses have been completely damaged have received Rs. 1,19,000 through the National Disaster Response Fundâ€™s (NDRF). However, the full compensation that affected families are entitled to and new housing have eluded most of the survivors. According to people managing the remaining relief camps in the district, this process could take up to six months or even longer. â€śWe submitted fresh applications along with photographs to the Panchayat Office but we have not been given any information on where we will be resettled or when it will happen,â€ť states Jayakara.
Hemmethalu: The long-term economic hit
Jayakaraâ€™s words are echoed by Imudiyanda Harish, a resident of Hemmethalu village around 30 km away from Eradane Monnangeri. Harish (42) owns 11.92 acres of land in his village. His family owns up to 59 acres of land in the village and its surrounding areas. A massive landslide from the top of a hill close to Hemmethalu village saw mud enter his home, forcing Harish and his family to flee through the backdoor in the middle of the night. â€śWe lost all that we had built in 25 minutes,â€ť says Harish, pointing to the remnants of his house.
Harish's residence in Hemmethalu, Kodagu.
The areas surrounding Hemmethalu, Mukkodlu, Makkandur and Thanthipala were severely affected by the landslides in August and were cut off from the main road leading to Madikeri. The roads were yet to be repaired when TNM visited Hemmethalu on Thursday. The Indian armyâ€™s Dogra and MEG regiments were stationed near Hemmethalu for five days to assist in rescue operations when the landslides occurred.
Harish, his wife Smitha Poovanna (38) and daughters Thangamma (6) and Veeksha (12) are now living in a home-stay on rent in Makkandur near Madikeri. â€śAround 7 acres of coffee plantations have been destroyed by the landslide,â€ť he says, as he walks past his house to examine what remains of his coffee plantation. â€śIt will take at least eight years to grow coffee from scratch and it will be at least ten years or more before they start giving yields anywhere close to what was being produced before the landslide,â€ť he adds, stroking his chin solemnly as he examines the coffee fruits that have fallen off the plants.
Landslide at Hemmethalu in Kodagu.
Kodaguâ€™s burgeoning coffee and pepper trade and its tourism appeal is the driving force of the districtâ€™s economy. According to the Coffee Board of Indiaâ€™s May 2018 report, Kodagu accounts for 1,07,089 hectares of the 2,44,785 hectares of coffee plantations in Karnataka, while the state is responsible for more than half of Indiaâ€™s coffee production.
Like Harish, hundreds of coffee and pepper growers have been hit by the landslides in Kodagu. The plantation owners say that the areas wiped out by the landslides cannot be cultivated for a long time.
The relief camp at Maithree Hall in Madikeri has been open for fifty days.
In addition, a family of labourers including four children, who stayed in the plantation owned by Harish, have taken refuge at the relief camp at Valmiki Bhavan in Kushalnagar. â€śWe want to ensure that they (labourers) have shelter and that their kidsâ€™ education is not affected but first, we need to figure out solutions to our own problems,â€ť he explains.
Labourers like Choma and Kavita who worked in Harishâ€™s plantation are unsure whether they can go back to their plantations and work anymore and are currently waiting in the relief camp with no one to vouch for them yet.
Workers repair a road near Jodupala in Kodagu.
Sampaje: Plantation workers in limbo
The eight remaining relief camps in the district are stocked with basic commodities including groceries, medicines, towels, blankets and clothes. â€śThere is no issue with food and shelter. There is good food and a roof over our heads but we have no place to live and no money to spend,â€ť says BK Ratnavathi (49), a survivor who is currently living in the relief camp set up at the Primary Health Care Centre in Sampaje, around 30 km from Madikeri.
Ratnavathi at the relief camp in the Primary Health Care Centre in Sampaje, Kodagu.
110 people, mostly labourers working in nearby coffee and pepper plantations, are housed in the relief camp in Sampaje and doctors at the healthcare center are tending to illnesses among the people in the camp. One of the problems faced by the camp's administrators is that most people residing in the camp cannot do any work other than tending to coffee and pepper plantations. The authorities have managed to find work for some people in the camp over a month after they began living there but they are struggling to convince plantation owners to take their workers back.
Inside the relief camp at Sampaje, Kodagu.
â€śWe are preparing to house the people in this camp for three to six months at least since there has been slow progress in the process of rehabilitating the people. So, to appease the people in the camp, we have managed to find them work in repairing the main road leading to Jodupala,â€ť says Balachandra Kalagi, the Secretary of the Sampaje Gram Panchayat.
Inside the relief camp at Sampaje, Kodagu.
Balachandra is quick to add that a permanent solution needs to be found immediately to house the 674 people currently living in relief camps.. â€śMost of the 110 people in this camp are labourers who were working in coffee and pepper plantations in this area. We need to speed up the process of identifying land and building houses for them,â€ť adds Balachandra.
The people in the camp are waiting in abeyance until they are rehabilitated. â€śWe would prefer to go back to where we lived but if it is impossible then we have no choice but to live in a different house. We simply want to be in a place we call home,â€ť Ratnavati says, in a reminder of the work left to be done in rehabilitating the displaced families in the district.
Photographs by Dhruv Khanna