Ten months after landslides swept away Kodagu villages, survivors still in limbo

The devastating floods and landslides in Kodagu last year affected 34 areas in the hilly region. But its impact in places like Eradane Monnangeri appears irreversible even today, almost a year after the disaster.
Ten months after landslides swept away Kodagu villages, survivors still in limbo
Ten months after landslides swept away Kodagu villages, survivors still in limbo
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A layer of mud and debris covers the village. Areca trees are bent sideways, tiles belonging to rooftops lie yards away from their homes. Branches are piled up in clumps soaking the rain. 

A devastating landslide wiped out parts of Eradane Monnangeri last year. But somehow all 193 families living in the hamlet, which is around 14 km from Madikeri in Karnataka's Kodagu district, managed to escape.

"We don't know how we survived," says Dhananjay Agolikaje, a 31-year-old resident of the village looking over the ruins of the home of his one-time neighbour.

"Everyone here vacated the village when the rains intensified. There are homes that are under the mud with no trace of them today. All other families in the village have some kind of damage to deal with whether it is a crack on the floor or in the walls or the path to their homes have been cut off," he adds. 

The catastrophic floods and landslides in Kodagu last August affected 34 areas in the hilly region, according to the district administration. In the entire district, 21 people were killed and over 7,000 people were displaced as lamp posts, trees and houses were swept under the mud last year. 

But its impact in places like Eradane Monnangeri appears irreversible. 

Twenty-five families in the village were left homeless while the remaining 168 know that they are living in an area where landslides could strike again. 

Left: Mukkodlu, Kodagu in October 2018, Right: Mukkodlu, Kodagu in June 2019

The district administration, tasked with rehabilitating the families displaced, has begun construction of 970 houses in five different areas in the district in Jambooru, Madenadu, Galibeedu, Biligere and Karnangeri. 

Slow pace of rehabilitation

And yet, ten months after the landslides, the houses are yet to be completed and many survivors living in vulnerable areas are preparing for this year's monsoon by making arrangements to live at a relative's home or in a rented accommodation.

Kodagu Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy, who took charge in February, puts the slow pace of construction down to the district administration's insistence on building quality houses. "When the government is building houses, we have to ensure quality. These are two-bedroom houses which were built after the Geological Survey of India submitted a report ensuring the land is safe for houses to be built. We are ensuring infrastructure like roads and retaining walls are also built. This requires time and cannot be rushed," says Annies. 

Houses constructed to rehabilitate survivors in Jambooru, Kodagu

But contractors and engineers managing the construction of these houses admit that the work on a section of 200 houses in Jambooru, the biggest rehabilitation area, began only in February, almost six months after the landslides. Around 570 houses are being built in Jambooru alone, of which, 200 are being built by the Infosys Foundation and the rest are being built under the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation Limited, a housing scheme started in 2000 to build affordable houses in rural areas. 

Before Annies took over as the Deputy Commissioner in February, the district was without a permanent head for two months after former Deputy Commissioner Sreevidya PI left her position in December for personal reasons. 

"While the digging work began in December, the construction of the houses began on February 5 and with the monsoon rains starting soon, it is impossible to exactly tell when it will be completed. Even during the rains, we can carry out work inside the houses but to complete the outer portion and other infrastructure like roads, we will have to wait till the rains recede," admits Chandan Ashok, a contractor for Infosys Foundation who is overseeing the construction of 200 houses in Jambooru.

The houses, each one with a specific two-bedroom blueprint, extends in every direction at the entrance of the resettlement area in Jambooru. Survivors, who have exhausted all other options are considering living in these houses.

"We are a family of nine so we cannot shift to the houses being built by the government. If it rains a lot, we will leave our house temporarily and we will stay in a rented accommodation," says KN Rajesh, a 32-year-old resident of Eradane Monnangeri.

The first batch of houses is expected to be inaugurated in July in Karnangeri, a settlement built around 2 km away from Madikeri. 

Areas cut off due to landslides

In Karnangeri, the construction of the houses are close to completion. However, the roads leading to the houses are yet to be built and this points to the larger problems affecting life in the district ever since the landslides. Besides wiping out houses, the landslides also damaged roads, power and communication lines in parts of the district. 

For Parvathy HR, a 62-year-old resident of Udayagiri village, the landslides cut off access to the main road leading to her house. She and her family members now have to trek through three kilometres of forests and coffee plantations to reach the main road in Udayagiri.

Parvathy HR in Udayagiri, Kodagu

"In our house, there are cracks on the floor and on the walls but since this is far away from the main road, no official has come to inspect the damage," says Parvathy. She lives with her son Vasanth HR, who drives a pick-up vehicle for a living, his wife Sunitha, a homemaker, and their three children.

Cracks like these are now seen in several houses in Kodagu

There are also schools, like the Government Primary School in Eradane Monnangeri, that are yet to reopen after the landslides since the roads leading to it was deemed too dangerous for students and teachers to use regularly. The school was last open on August 15, 2018 when residents of the village held a flag hoisting ceremony in the pouring rain on account of Independence day. The roads leading to the school caved due to landslides a day later. 

Photograph taken at Eradane Monnangeri Government Primary School on August 15 2018

“Even though the road is built, if it rains again in June and July, it could become dangerous for students and teachers to travel on this road. If landslides do not recur here this year, we are hoping to reopen the school in October. The students have all been studying in nearby schools of their choice,” explains Dhananjay.

Government Primary School, Eradane Monnangeri, Kodagu

The district administration, along with a growing network of concerned residents, managed to resurrect road connectivity in Kodagu by November 2018. But huge tracts of mud are still piled up in a few areas forcing residents to take long detours to reach their homes. “In the past year, we have managed to relay the roads in our village and also help restore electricity and create drains again. Once we managed to do that, we focused on relief for families who lost acres of coffee plantations and paddy fields during the landslides,” adds Dhananjay.

Survivors seek better compensation

Thousands of farmers who saw coffee, pepper and areca plantations buried under mud are still holding out hope of receiving compensation from the state government. One such farmer, TK Joyappa, a farmer in Mukkodlu village, claims that he has received Rs 64,000 as compensation despite losing two acres out of his four-acre plot in which he was growing coffee. 

TK Joyappa, a resident of Mukkodlu village in Kodagu

"I received Rs 64,000 as compensation but the landslide has swept half of my plantation under the mud. Nothing can be grown when there is ten feet of mud on the soil," Joyappa says. 

The district administration stated that Rs 45 crore has been distributed as compensation to 34,000 farmers while another 2000 farmers are awaiting compensation due to a lack of Aadhaar linkage. But Deputy Commissioner Annies admitted that the farmers have not been adequately compensated due to limitations in the compensation allotted by the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). 

“Compensation has been dispensed under three categories - crop loss, land loss, damage due to silt...But according to the NDRF guidelines, compensation could only be given to a maximum of 5 acres or Rs 64,000 per farmer. Farmers, however, have complained that they have sustained huge losses,” admits Annies. 

She also added that cases in which the names registered under Rights, Tenancy and Crops (RTC) records did not match with the applicant claiming compensation would be rejected automatically. “People cannot claim compensation based on unregistered documents,” she said pointing out an issue that has strained relations between the public and the district administration over the last ten months.   

A house damaged at Udayagiri, Kodagu

This roadblock, Joyappa points out has created a web of bureaucratic issues in obtaining compensation and has led to many farmers viewing the district administration with suspicion. "For instance, I had to produce an affidavit of the death certificate of my father since the land was in his name. The officials at the DC office were unprepared to deal with the number of complaints they received and for months, my compensation was held up in paperwork. I had to set aside days to ensure that I went from department to department to receive the compensation and even then, it is barely enough to cover the damages I am facing," Joyappa says.

Joyappa’s home village Mukkodlu was one of the heavily affected villages in the landslides. The Dogra regiment of the Indian army was stationed on the main road leading to the village to rescue residents trapped by the landslides.

Mukkodlu, Kodagu

The risks post floods and landslides

Ahead of this year’s monsoon, rescue teams like Civil Defence and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), have already begun preparations to address the issues they faced fighting the disaster on-ground last year. “We are ready this time with unmanned boats, floating bridges and dewatering pumps. The unmanned boats work like drones on water. It will help us transport ropes and life jackets across areas flooded in water,” explains PRS Chetan, Officer Commanding, Civil Defence Quick Response Team (QRT). 

But the residents in Kodagu’s villages know the risks involved in staying on in their homes. “In 2013, cracks developed on the ground in our village for the first time in my lifetime and we knew that this area could be affected by landslides. But that did not prepare us for what happened last year,” recalls Dhananjay.   

Eradane Monnangeri, Kodagu

A May 2019 report by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) identified 35 locations in the district to be prone to landslides of which 13 are highly vulnerable. The report also mentions locations in Niduvitu, Hemmethalu, Makkanduru, and three locations in Hebbategeri, where surface cracks have been observed.  

Survivors like Parvathy and Joyappa now face a tough decision - whether to resettle in an area where landslides are infrequent or take their chances and rebuild their village. It is uncertain how soon a landslide could recur in their village again.. 

The district administration is in favour of resettling the residents in stable land. “Eradane Monnangeri is like an island cut off from both sides leading to it. The entire area may have to be evacuated after the new houses are constructed and the place has to be left for agriculture purpose...We are planning to resettle all those who are living in vulnerable areas in addition to those who have lost their homes. This will happen in the next few months”, says Annies. 

Eradane Monnangeri, Kodagu

With the monsoon rainfall expected to intensify at the start of July, the district administration has already issued a notice to shift people residing in vulnerable areas of the district to relief centres or a rented accommodation elsewhere as a precautionary measure. The administration will pay the money needed for rent for the next three months. 

But few in Kodagu are viewing this dilemma as an opportunity to move away from their home. “We neither have the money nor the ability to buy new land elsewhere.We have our fields here and we have grown up here,” responds Rajesh of Eradane Monnangeri, when the question is posed to him.

KN Rajesh in Eradane Monnangeri, Kodagu

“We have to be realistic in some ways and prepare ourselves for another landslide but we will continue to live here. Only if this land goes completely under (mud), will we leave. Otherwise, our lives will continue here and we will rebuild.”

Photographs Courtesy: Sampat Shetty

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