The passions that have been running high over the Cauvery have eclipsed that the river’s birthplace is in Kodagu district, where it is an integral part of the lives of the Kodavas, but not in terms of drinking water.
Journalist and author PT Bopanna has eloquently spoken about what the Cauvery means to the Kodavas, one of the communities of people who live within Kodagu district. The identity of the Kodavas is deeply linked with the river, which rises in Talacauvery. Ironically, Madikeri city, the district headquarters, frequently faces a drinking water problem.
“The Rs 230-crore Harangi project has been conceived for the benefit of politically powerful Mysore and Hassan districts. Though the Harangi Dam (in picture) is in Kodagu and the major catchment area of the Cauvery is also in Kodagu, the irrigation potential from the project for Kodagu is a measly 607 hectares, out of the 54,591 hectares of total irrigation potential,” Bopanna says on his website Coorgnews.in.
He pointed out that 1,909 acres of land in 13 villages had been submerged by the construction of the Harangi dam in Somwarpet taluk.
“See, we don’t benefit from the Cauvery at all. Every year the river floods and the roads get blocked. We are always inconvenienced by the Cauvery. We just want our basic water needs met, and it’s a small place,” Bopanna says.
Although people are worried about drinking water supply from the Cauvery, Bopanna says that in Kodagu, people are worried more about a larger problem.
“I’m worried about deforestation,” Bopanna says. Falling in the Malenadu region, Kodagu district houses 4,102 sq km of the Western Ghats, making it look as if a green carpet is spread across the land. It is one of the least populated districts in the state.
Referring to the 400kv power line from Yelwal in Mysuru to Kozhikode in Kerala, a distance of 55m, Bopanna said: “This government-sponsored deforestation needs to stop.”
According to some estimates, 55,000 trees will be cut in thick forest areas to set up the line. Activists have alleged that a few thousand trees have been cut in violation of the law.
“When trees were being cut for that power line, not a single politician made any noise. They weren’t bothered. This clearly reveals their short-sightedness and their lack of understanding about the effects of deforestation. Rainfall has become erratic in the region,” Bopanna says.
He advocates a complete ban on tree felling and the conversion of agricultural land for commercial purposes. “But Kogadu’s politicians depend on the timber lobby and sand mining. They have not allowed a discussion on the Kasturirangan report.”
Now he’s worried. Drought-like conditions that occurred only once in five years in the past, are now almost an annual feature. “We need to save the Western Ghats to save the Cauvery (for all of us). That’s the core issue.”