Wayanad is a much romanticised destination for travel enthusiasts. For those who live on the other side of the Thamarassery ghat – that’s the rest of the state – Wayanad is known for its landscape and as a ‘farmers’ land’.
But for the people of the hilltop district, the isolated geography is not something to romanticise about. It takes nearly three hours to negotiate the ghat from the neighbouring Kozhikode district and the ghat is what links Wayanad to the rest of the state.
Wayanad is also the only district in Kerala other than Idukki that is not connected via railways, so the people here have been yearning for railway connectivity.
“It takes two hours to shift a sick person to a hospital from Meenangadi town. It takes even more time from places like Pulppally or Muthanga. We have been promised time and again that we would get a railway line, so what is hindering the Nilambur-Nanjangud project?” asks Mujeeb, an autorickshaw driver at Meenangadi.
There are two proposed railway lines for the district. One is the much discussed Nilambur- Nanjangud railway project and the other is the Thalassery-Mysore rail. The Nanjagund railway project will connect the town of Nanjangud in Karnataka to Nilambur in the neighbouring district of Malappuram through Wayanad and Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. The Thalassery-Mysore line will run from Thalassery in Kannur district, which is 139 km from Wayanad, to Mysore through Wayanad.
“We have been hearing about this railway line for a long time. Not just people in Wayanad, even locals in other parts of the constituency, such as Nilambur in Malappuram, have been waiting for this as it would make our lives more convenient,” says Shameer, an autorickshaw driver from Kalpetta.
Absence of advanced medical facilities
The lack of advanced medical care facilities also has left people isolated in a state that is known for the high standards it has achieved in the health sector.
“We don’t have a medical college hospital in Wayanad. There’s an advanced facility in the government sector. The nearest medical college is in Kozhikode. A critically ill person might even lose their life while being taken all the way to Kozhikode. During the rule of the previous UDF government, a foundation stone was laid for a medical college, but it was abandoned post-floods as the location chosen was ecologically fragile,” Mujeeb adds.
The setbacks in the farming sector is another factor that has hugely impacted the lives of the people in the district.
“To be precise, I have reduced farming to one-third of what I used to do earlier,” says Lousan, a farmer in Meenangadi. He cites the reasons for the decline in the farming sector to be pest attacks, destruction of farm land and produce by wild animals, and adverse climate.”
“We used to get Rs 700 per kg for pepper till a year ago. Now it has come down to Rs 300 per kg. For 600 kg of ginger, the price was Rs 10,000, which has now come down to Rs 3,700. Even if we grow coconut trees, the monkeys would destroy the coconuts when they are tender. Wild elephants break the fences we have set up to resist their attack,” Lousan says, adding, “The floods have also impacted us adversely. Apart from taking away what we had, the farm land and the produce, it has even changed the texture of the soil.”
Balakrishnan, another farmer, echoes Lousan’s views while listening to him at a tea shop.
“Areca nut was one of the major farm products. But the entire sector has suffered a setback due to a pest attack. The farming sector needs a huge boost and we expect the same from whoever is winning the election this time,” says Balakrishnan.
Tourism needs a boost
The tourism sector in Wayanad also requires a shot in the arm to maintain the reputation of being one of the most sought after tourism destinations in south India.
The prime need is for a railway line connecting the district and lifting of the night travel ban on National Highway 766, which begins from Wayanad and goes through Bandipur National Park and other reserve forests in Karnataka.
“Wayanad’s main source of income is tourism. And we need the right kind of development to sustain it. By development, I don’t mean blindly constructing roads and building infrastructure. We need sensitive and smart development to boost eco-tourism in the district,” says Sanu Salim, a restaurant owner in Wayanad.
The night travel ban from 9 pm to 6 am on the Wayanad-Bangalore and Wayanad-Mysore routes has affected the tourism sector as well as traders.
“The tourists don’t stay here at night due to the travel ban for they may get stranded here. This has forced us to close our shops by seven in the evening as business reduces. It has affected related activities too. The streets here look deserted after eight and this has reduced the benefits from trade. The ban has to be lifted for a boost in tourism as well as the trading sector,” says Shareef, a young merchant in Sultan Bathery.
“It is not that there is no development. But the lack of connectivity makes us feel alien to the rest of the state. Also, Wayanad, though usually included in the list of development projects, is always somehow excluded from the final list,” he adds.