While you the viewer-reader are being subjected to non-stop resort nonsense, here’s a look at what the rest of Karnataka is looking like.

The price Karnataka pays for a resort government
Voices Opinion Sunday, January 20, 2019 - 12:46

Jan 20, 2019

Namaskara, dear nation. My name is Karnataka. I am a state in the south-west of India; have close to 6 crore children. I am home to the Cauvery, Coffee, Carnatic music and to Channapatna’s wooden toys; to firebrand women of history Rani Chennamma and Onake Obavva; to the Yakshagana folk form and to poets writers Kuvempu, Bendre, Nissar Ahmed and Vaidehi; home to the Jog falls, the Mysore palace, Hampi and Halebidu-Belur world heritage sites; home to more than 90% of India’s gold produced at source in Kolar and Hatti; as also home to Navaratna PSUs HAL, BEL ,BHEL; and to IT, BT, Infosys, Wipro; Rahul (Dravid I meant), Kumble, world billiards champ Pankaj Advani; to revolutionary thought leaders, Dalit movements and transgender rights activists; also home to HD Kumaraswamy, BS Yeddyurappa, DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah.

I would have counted a few 100 MLAs as people in my home, but some journalists said they spotted these people fleeing and forsaking me to go live in a Rs 30,000-per-centrally-heated-room in some Gurugram resort.

A few more MLAs I may count for now, as they are at least cooped up in my own land and lap – in a resort the journalists said is named Eagleton, where they are apparently watched 24x7 every kshana on the clock, by eyes like the bird of the same name as the hotel.

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That’s a page from the diary of India’s 8th largest state. While the Congress holds its Legislature Party meeting in a resort to keep its MLAs ‘safe from BJP’s onslaught’, and the BJP starts releasing some of its captive MLAs slowly from Gurugram, the JD(S) has admitted to a crisis in the government ‘created by the BJP’, the ping-pong match is on, full’on.

But while you the viewer-reader are being subjected to non-stop resort nonsense, let’s look at what the rest of Karnataka is looking like, shall we?

  • 156 of the 227 taluks across Karnataka’s 30 districts are reeling under drought, having been declared drought-hit by the state government’s own notification, as of the last week of December.
  • The Rs 4,800 crore loan waiver announced by the coalition government was received well by the farmers, but following the failure of the North east monsoons, only 62.88 lakh hectares have crops sown on them, out of the normal kharif crop sown area of 74.69 lakh hectares.
  • Close to 1.4 crore workers in rural Karnataka have not been paid their wages yet for the past one and a half months. This despite their work under the MGNREGA scheme (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) that is meant to provide employment to unskilled workers for 100 days in a year with a pay of Rs 236 per day. The workers are engaged in creating rural assets like school compounds, trenches, farm water bodies etc).
  • Migration en masse has begun, like is the pattern every year during January-February, from towns like Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Bellary, Gadag, Vijayapura, and Bagalkote to cities of Mumbai, Sangli, Satara, to Bengaluru and Chikmagalur estates and an increasing number to Goa, in search of employment and livelihood.

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Neela K, a feisty activist from Kalaburagi district who has been working for rights of MGNREGA workers, was part of a recent delegation to Bengaluru to present a memorandum to the state government asking it to release wages of workers at least before the festival of Sankranti, but was told that the central government was yet to send the money. A senior bureaucrat in Bengaluru then told the delegation that the Centre has in fact asked the state government itself for a loan. Between the state and the centre, lakhs of poor go wageless.

“Idu janara rozi roti prashne,” says Neela, “It is a question of livelihood, and food for the people.” The drought has added to the already distressed people’s woes.

And in a taluk like Aland, not declaring drought has caused distress to its people.

Aland, a taluk in Kalaburagi has had 73% deficit in rainfall. The neighbouring towns of Chittapur, Afzalpur and Sedam which received around 60% deficit rainfall are officially ‘drought hit taluks’. Yet, Aland has not been declared so and will not receive special funds, due to certain norms of the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) not being met – a blame the people of the taluk lay on the local officials “for not presenting our taluk’s case properly.” In such a situation, the locals say it is the responsibility of the local MLA (Subhash Guttedar of the BJP in this case) to step in, work round the clock to provide relief to the people, “but resortalli majavaagi koothbitre yaaru kaelthaare?” (“If you go off to a resort to sit and enjoy, who is to ask?”)

There is of course a robust bureaucracy that Karnataka boasts of, but it is almost always political power that has to push action on the ground. “A good IAS officer can do only that much and not more,” says Rishikesh Bahadur Desai, The Hindu’s correspondent in Belagavi district.

Rishikesh, a seasoned journalist who has covered the state since the 2000s, particularly the backward regions of Hyderabad-Karnataka and Bombay-Karnataka regions, is clear what the government ought to do now. “If I were to become the Chief Minister tomorrow, I would ask every tahsildar posted in the taluks to start packing seeds for the farmers to be distributed free of cost, to have gruel centres, to do a survey of drinking water across the tehsils and if there is no underground water, make arrangements for that. That work has not happened till today, there is no government order. Droughts are declared invariably by August 1 set by the monsoon time; some governments do that only by October. Either way, by now we should have been halfway through government relief work on drought.“

Firoze Rozindar, a journalist in the neighbouring Vijayapura district that has all 5 taluks as drought-stricken, points out how the district in charge minister M C Managoli, horticulture minister in his 80s belonging to the JD(S), has not held a single district review meeting. Vijayapura – nee Bijapur – is primarily agriculture-dependent, so the onus is on the government to focus on what its farmers want.

The outcomes of not addressing drought have a domino effect. The first and most drastic is migration. People, mostly able-bodied young men and women, leave their villages in search of jobs and food to cities. Back in the village, home after home often has only the old, the disabled and the children left behind. Sometimes kids are tagged along, in which case they drop out of school – and the education system. In any case, schools in villages are often teacherless, buildingless, and if that is any respite to the current government, that situation prevails regardless of which party is in power.

Migration also leads to increased incidents of sexual violence. And strangely to another fallout –  accidents. Neela describes a common sight in the villages of north Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka: tractors lined up filling people like sardines into them, headed by a ‘contractor’ who takes them into the cities with the promise of work. Mishaps, and lives claimed or maimed, are a common by-product.

It is not as if only rural Karnataka is suffering from lack of government attention. 

The capital city of Bengaluru, purportedly the money-bringer into the coffers of the government, cries for focus to fix its pain points: trash, traffic and depleting tree-cover. 4000 tonnes of waste that the city generates every day have nowhere to go but landfills – often in villages that, rightfully, protest against being the filth pit of the city.

Bengaluru that probably has as many citizen activists as the number of startups, has had its own list of asks from the government – groups like SWMRT the Solid Waste Management Round Table have been pushing for more composting, segregation at source and recycling units of paper and plastic. But the garbage mafia has had a free run for years now, and once-clean localities have permanent open plastic dumps that the BBMP, the city’s municipality, no longer bothers to clear. While even Mumbai and Chennai have gone to implement plastic ban, Bengaluru makes no pretence even.

The unhearing ears of the powers that be have prompted some civic activists like Srinivas Alavilli and Tara Krishnaswamy to start a postcard campaign to get people to write actual letters to the Kumaraswamy government to initiate public consultations on the controversial (and in their argument, an unsustainable and extravagant) elevated corridor project in the city’s Koramangala . The ‘Janaramaathukaeli’ (listen to the people, in Kannada) hashtag prompts people to write lines on a postcard: “Sir Chief Minister, you said the doors of the Vidhana Soudha are always open. When can we come to see you?”

It is clear though that even the sentry at the Soudha will have to wait for that date to see the esteemed leaders back in the state Assembly doing what they are supposed to do – solve people’s problems. If they can solve their problems that is. If anyone has a clue how the present resort-seesaw will resolve, it is perhaps an astrologer somewhere in the city who has the ears of the leaders.

There is a lesson in this all – whoever the incoming government better have an exclusive minister of cabinet rank whose sole job is FP: Flock Protection. It will save us the sight like that of a former Chief Minister and Congress heavyweight doubling up as a conductor, herding his party MLAs into a luxury bus.

Vasanthi Hariprakash is an independent journalist from radio and television, and based in Bengaluru. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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