Around 35 villages in Hungund with a total displaced population of 18,744 remain affected
By Shivani Priyam
Basavraj D Vaidya like every small-scale farmer in India had dreams of achieving a high yield from a limited portion of land he held in a small village of Chittaragi in Hungund taluk. Aged 40, Basavraj hoped to sell his sugarcane and millet produce to the market and earn a stable living for his family. In a state like Karnataka which has a history of sugarcane farming on black soil, the yield of sugarcane exceeds more than 100 tonnes per hectare which is more than twice in the past. The sugar industry is affected by multiple factors which determine its output including the availability of raw materials, presence of skilled labour force, transportation and proximity to the market. With a meagre income, supporting a family of four, Basavraj finds the task laborious and expensive, as with limited resources in his pocket, he is unable to meet the high input costs. With tears in his eyes and grief in his voice, Basavraj dictates the history of flood damage that submerged his field and eventually destroyed all his crops. “Last year, there was heavy rainfall. Unprepared and unaware, I tried to save my family and the house we were living in, everybody was running to save their shelters. The next morning when I woke up, I could see my field submerged under knee-deep water and the crops were a ruin. I felt devastated at the sight,” stated Basavraj as his voice bore the anxiety of despair and anger at the helplessness, as he further spoke of the relief measures. “The past few days have been worse, all the relief centres are closed, the offices are shut. The panchayat officials are not responding to our demands, he grieved.”
Hungund- The Bigger Picture
A similar is the story of thousands of farmers across Hungund who eagerly await the relief and compensation yet to arrive at their doors. MD Vaidya, a middle-aged shopkeeper who runs a medical store by the name ‘Shivade V medical store’ in the same village spoke of the innumerable damage caused to the building and the supplies due to incessant rains last year. “All my supplies were gone; the building began to plummet, and the cement started wading off. We wrote a letter to the local MLA in which a sum of Rs 10,000 was to be granted to 180 villages, but, we have not received any further notice,” said Vaidya. Even petrifying are the pictures dictating the story of Mahantesh MB, as one can notice his scarred fields and crops drowned as if brutally murdered by an invasive force. Mahantesh has been growing sunflowers along with sugarcane for over two months now and the disparaging state of his fields surmount the painful echo of disaster that is never ending. Mahantesh spoke, “The sugarcane crops have suffered 75 percent damage during the three-month period when rains would not stop. Everywhere water seem to have gushed while we hopelessly waited for the rainfall to stop. The sugarcane business was flourishing. One tonne fetched me around Rs 2,200. But the sugarcane factory is located 25 kilometres away. The village panchayat officials arrived on spot during October to carry on a survey of submerged fields and we were promised a compensation to the tune of Rs 10,000 to be delivered by next month. However, in-spite of repeated rounds of visit, nobody is responding, and no amount has reached us.”
Karnataka Floods- What Exactly Happened?
The days are not far when heavy to extreme rainfall created panic and havoc across several districts of North Karnataka. Coastal and malnad regions were issued a red alert by the Indian Meteorological Department as several were badly affected. As per a news report carried by India Today, dated October 21, 2019, for the past few days, torrential rains in north interior Karnataka has wreaked havoc as many rivers, rivulets and small streams are in spate, reminiscent of the floods in August, as per official sources. The affected districts are Dharwad, Belagavi, Kalaburagi, Gadag, Vijaypura, Bagalkote, Shivamogga and Chikkamagaluru, where water gushed into houses and government buildings, including schools and banks in low-lying areas. Many inter-state connectivity roads were inundated, causing the stoppage of traffic. A report on ‘The profile of Hungund taluk affected by Krishna Malaprabha backwaters, 2019-20,’ sheds light on the total number of villages affected in the taluk reaching 35, whereby, 5124 families have been shifted. Around 18,744 people were re-located to newer locations. 3,316 livestock was affected.
Passing through Hungund Rural, one can see college students in uniforms crossing the road to reach college, as the exams were ongoing. The roads leading to the college crossed through narrow, interior lanes, which were muddy with no pavement. Savitri Kuri, a B. Com final year student studying at VMSRV College, Hungund Rural, stated, “Every day, we have to cross the same road which leads to the college entrance. Due to rains, the road is packed with mud which sticks to our shoes. As the exams are running, we are under pressure to reach on time but, at times, water accumulates on the roads making passage difficult.” Mangala Bagalkoti works as an Office Superintendent in an office located next to the college. Being in the position for around four years now, she stated, “The college management is a huge task ahead of us as we make sure to avail all necessities to our children so that their education is not compromised. The students belong to poor families and they cannot afford high fees, so we ensure to keep the fees to the bare minimum for our students. Now-a-days, education seems to be a tall task, as we do not have adequate transport facilities and proper road connectivity. Moreover, most girls come empty stomach to the institute creating further hindrance to studies.”
The Story of Chittaragi
Though a small village, Chittaragi presents a similar despairing state of damaged houses, stalled business, lack of sanitation and inadequate supply of clean water to the village. The public toilets in the village remain closed with broken doors as nobody seems to be using them. They bear a sorry sight as they are unfit for usage and are unclean. Most houses do not have separate toilets, as villagers choose to defecate in open fields or depend on public toilets which suffer highly due to lack of sanitation. Vijay Kumar is a farmer practising jowar cultivation in Chittaragi for the past two years. Living in a small accommodation with tin-covered roofs, Vijay finds it hard to support his family with his restricted earnings. With agony in his eyes telling a story unheard for years now, Vijay spoke, “Our family is not eligible for an APL (Above Poverty Line) card as we are poor. We applied for the APL card around 2-3 years ago, which was refused. Most women in our village are left with no option but to defecate openly as the public toilets are not accessible to all. I lodged a complaint to the local panchayat to build separate restroom spaces for men and women of our village one year ago but have not got any response yet.”
Renuka Angadi works as a Technical Assistant Engineer for Chittaragi Village Panchayat. Receiving complaints from residents, she stated, “The villagers are entitled to compensation from the Revenue Department. Our office has been maintaining facilities for drainage and adequate supply of water to the village. Around 95 percent of the fields have been damaged due to floods. However, no compensation dispatched from the Centre has reached the villagers yet by the department. The higher authorities only asked us to carry a survey to anticipate the damage, however implementation rests in their hands. The last report was submitted on 23rd October 2019.”
Dam- Induced Floods: A Causative Factor?
Adding to the cause of incessant rainfall, inundation caused by dams due to erratic release of water increasing the flow poses another risk for the nearby villages as they remain on the borderline of vandalization. Heavy and erratic rainfall continues to be the chief cause of floods in several states but coinciding with water level in dams reaching a maximum capacity, dam-induced floods are common. An article by Down-to-Earth puts emphasis on the cause of dam-induced flooding in Maharashtra and Karnataka. As per the report, an assessment of the Krishna river basin by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People (SANDRP) shows how mismanagement on releasing the water from various dams worsened the flood situation in Kolhapur, Sangli, and Satara districts of Maharashtra. Three of the big dams in the region- Koyna, Radhanagari, and Warna- were almost 100 percent full by August 5, when the current floods started. The Radhanagari dam was close to 80 percent full by July 25 and the Koyna and Warna dams were around 50 percent full, according to the Central Water Commission live storage data. But no water was released till then. The report says that if these dams had started releasing water from July 25, they would have had enough space during the first week of August when the districts received heavy rainfall and that would have subsequently helped reduce the floods. The dams, that were supposed to help moderate the flood situation, instead ended up proliferating the cause.
Analysing the situation in Karnataka, the release of water from the Hidkal dam in Belagavi district of Karnataka had a huge influence on worsening the flood situation as operators waited for the dam to reach a threshold limit. The report stated, “Till August 5, the release was a paltry 2,400 cusecs. As soon as the dam was full, the water releases went up to 29,429 cusecs on August 6, which then kept climbing up to 100,945 cusecs on August 9. Then, excess release started on August 6, coinciding with the flood peak.” Down-to-Earth quotes AK Gosain from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi who said that if the amount of water flowing to the reservoir was known beforehand, the water level in the reservoir could be managed. This could be done through the simulation models which depend on the size of the catchment.
Hariprasad Purohit, who works as an Assistant Agricultural Officer, Hungund Agriculture Office, offered his point of view, thus, “The floods that occurred between August and September i.e. from August 1 to 15, caused 100 percent flooding in Maharashtra which caused the Koyna dam to overflow thus releasing huge quantities of water. The water then flows to Almatti reservoir in Karnataka which causes it to accumulate further in Bijapur district. The total height of dam being 590 metres, during the floods, water accumulates to the range of 520 metres whereby, nearly 6 lakh cusecs of water is released. This causes flooding in nearby districts including Raichur, Bagalkot, Bijapur, etc and villages are flooded. The amount of rainfall received during the time remained less than normal, but the reason lies due to incessant rains in Maharashtra that caused flooding in the regions.” Responding to the further course by the department on the rescue and relief operations, the officer further stated, “During the floods, we give a call to National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) while we aim to rescue some lives. The District Commissioner at the time, Ramachandra formed a committee of nodal officers under taluk and hobli levels to assign particular tasks for each village under one nodal officer, be it agricultural or horticultural officer. Under each nodal officer, block development officers function to analyse the amount of damage caused to the farmers’ fields and the crops, including houses, cattle and livestock. We finally carry a 10-15-day survey of the entire district with respect to the damage caused and the area under damage. The final report is then submitted to the government.”
However, little is observed on ground with contrasting images of reality and implementation. Several villages in Bagalkot remain affected due to floods, some of them include Kaladgi, Govanakoppa, Udagatti, Shardala, Ingalagi, Devanala, Sokanadgi, Yadahalli, Surakoppa, Honaralli, Bannidinne, among a host of others. Located 35 kilometres from Hungund, lies a deserted and a small village, Seetimani which narrates the disparaging story of shifted accommodations and a few residents whose wailing tales remain unheard of. The surveys carry a bigger picture of the zones and the districts affected, but they fail to encroach upon the guiled frames of reality. Seetimani from years has remained obscure from the eyes and ears of the masses and the government. Hot winds blowing through deserted spaces, dry fields and an even smaller population, days seem to pass by with no noticeable change. An ordinary day yields no significant return as villagers including the old and young toil day in and out working in the fields. Indeed, a surprise that natural disasters can change the course of life for a few, while they create perils for many. As one enters the village, broken roofs, fallen trees, cracked walls and heaps of stones and bricks lying on ground reveals a rather gloomy night of torrential rains and storms that added to the desolation of the poor. Laxmibai is a housewife who has been staying in the village for a few years now. Washing clothes on a stone slab, she spoke of the years of toil and hardships she faced along with her husband to bring up her small family. They started renovating their house last year, when storms washed away their house turning it to shambles. The house remains, with a ceiling fan attached to a pole without a ceiling and broken side walls. The house has two separate rooms and a main hall which has no walking space as mud and stones keep falling from the roofs. Laxmibai thus stated, “We are a family of around 10-15 members living in the small enclosed space which comprises of my husband, five children, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We have been staying in this area for around thirty years now. Few months back, panchayat officials arrived to take pictures of the house and promised to make an installment of Rs 50,000 into our account. However, no damage compensation has arrived yet and we are forced to repay for the damages on our own.” Umar Soudagar, FDC, Tehsildar Office, Bagalkot, said, “Bagalkot taluk is divided into three circles, each circle comprising of nearly 30 villages however, not all of them have been affected due to floods. Almost 12-14 villages were affected and agricultural fields suffered. Excess water released from the Koyna dam in Maharashtra along with heavy rainfall caused villages to submerge. Villages like Ankalagi, Shardat and Kaladgi were acquired by the government and people were re-located to newer locations whereby, relief care centres were set up. Villagers are attached to the lands due to agriculture. The government pays a certain amount due as minimum charges after acquisition to the villagers. When the dams further release water, villagers are intimated and are re-located to avoid damage.”
A similar is the story of an old woman Sitavva Bannada, who lives close by. Sitavva is around 60 and she works in the field along with her husband, as their sons are out to work in the district. Sitavva’s house inhabits a despairing picture of neglect, profound pains and damage. The house after the damage represents a cave like structure with a deep entrenched hole on the outer wall and a sheath of plastic covering the top. At the top, logs of wood could be exposed with dampened walls and a ray of sunlight peeping through the hole in the wall, in an otherwise dark, gloomy surrounding. Inside are firesticks for cooking with crumpled walls and powdered dust. Sitavva’s face unveiled years of hard work and signs of ageing and poverty. With despair in her gloomy eyes, Sitavva spoke, “I have been staying in this house for around 30-40 years along with my husband, my son and his wife. The house is ancestral and was made entirely of mud, which led to it falling poorly when the rains arrived. The house fell in August. Since then, my husband covers it with plastic and grass on the top as there is no ceiling. We are extremely poor to afford for the construction on our own. As we don’t have the required documents, we are denied loans and compensation too.”
Ravi Janaki works as a mason in Seetimani. He has dreams of constructing a cemented house after his old accommodation fell due to heavy rainfall last year. Ravi has been working as a mason for around six-seven years now. He has eight members in his family. He was eager to narrate a sequence of traumatic episodes when he was made to spend his entire family earnings on the construction, with little or no support from the government and the panchayat bodies. Ravi said, “I have managed to arrange a sum of Rs 3 lakhs with the help of my brother. The government did not avail us personal loans as we are not salaried citizens. So, we had to avail private loans to the tune of Rs 5-6 lakhs for the construction of the new house, which includes the cost of painting and welding. We tried to reach out to Karnataka Vikas Grameena Bank for loans but, the officials asked us to fetch income tax documents along with government job proofs. We managed to arrange the documents, yet they refused us loans. So, we procured it though a private basis which was really expensive.” PK Tiwari, working as a branch manager for the bank, said, “Every year, we have thousands of villagers who come to us to demand loans for cultivation, family purposes, etc without any residential proof and valid documents. On our side, it is a cumbersome process to pass the loan, as they have no collateral. Without a security, we cannot pass hefty loans.”
The government school in Seetimani is yet another representation of the scary situation. Housing over 35 children, the building is a hazard. Villagers stated on the uncertainty of the frail structure falling and posing a risk to the lives of young children. During rains, the leakage through the roof makes the condition difficult. Moreover, there are no separate spaces for restrooms for boys and girls. Children are forced to defecate in uncovered toilets and open spaces next to them. Vijay Gagan Dharmar, a sugarcane farmer staying next to the school, said, “As the number of children studying in the school is high, they face seating problems and there is no alternate arrangement to house students for the remaining classes. As the building is damaged, a second building is used to hold classes up to first grade.”
The state government is in a tussle with centre over the release of funds for the flood damage as Karnataka has pegged the loss to the tune of Rs 38,000 crore. So, the state government has urged the centre to focus on the current remunerative price for farm produce and irrigation. As per a news report by The Times of India, dated January 3, 2020, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa requested the Prime Minister for Rs 50,000 crore to complete irrigation projects pending for decades. The CM went on to say that he would be sending a delegation of ministers and the chief secretary to meet Modi at Raj Bhavan and apprise the PM on the damage, relief and rehabilitation work that must be taken along with Central assistance. Further reports indicate that four days after a high-level committee announced Rs 1,869 crore additional assistance to Karnataka for flood relief, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa clarified that the funds include the Rs 1,200 crore released in October 2019.
The Chief Minister further clarified that the total fund so far was Rs 1,869 crore and what was earlier approved during October 2019 was only an advance as per the allocation made therewith. (Source: The New Indian Express, dated 11 January 2020).
Commenting on the flood relief measures and the extent of damages, Basavraj Nagaral, Tehsildar, Hungund Tehsildar Office, stated, “Based on the extent of damage, houses are classified into three categories, namely, A, B and C. The A category damage incurs more than 75 percent damage, which is entitled to a compensation of Rs 5 lakhs. The B category houses, incurring between 35 to 75 percent damages are paid comparatively less. While for the C category buildings, we pay around Rs 50,000. Hungund taluk, however, has no A category damages yet, while 38 houses fall under B category. Initially we made a compensation amount of Rs 1 lakh for A category houses and Rs 25,000 for B category ones. C category houses received a single installment of Rs 50,000.”
Commenting on the sad picture and offering us side views to the grim reality, Prof. BK Sharma, Dept. of Social Sciences, DAV College, said, “Events like these that shook the south cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, we can take appropriate measures to alert the residents beforehand. The state and district authorities need to be active to carry on research and analysis on a timely basis to calculate the quantum of water discharged from the dams in sync with its holding capacity and take precautions as dam-induced floods could be a disaster if not controlled timely.”
Stories of villages like Seetimani and Hungund taluk overall presents a zone of conflict between ones who hold positions of authority and the ones who bring them to power, notably the citizens. Various schemes encouraged to provide support to the needy fail to reach the desired when the battle is fought on war-footing. The poor, despite harmless, are mute spectators as their dreams are crushed and one can witness the social structure slowly crippling. A society cannot prosper when the weakest of the weak continue to hail cries of lament, despair and fallacies of our corrupt system.