From rough weather to smooth sailing

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A unique relocation package in Kudremukh National Park came with its own set of challenges.

His teeth all stained with the constant chewing of betel leaf and areca nut, hair grey at a relatively young age, and a vast amount of information that he displays as he talks, the 40-something Sudhakar Shetty from the Kerekatte enclosure in Kudremukh National Park is one person who will give you different reasons for moving out of the park.

 

Sudhakar Shetty in his new house © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

Besides the usual compulsions cited by most people — of poor access to basic health and education amenities, and the losses to crops from wildlife, Shetty says loud and clear: “It is good for the environment and wildlife that we move out.”

And he means it. Shetty is one of the beneficiaries of the unique relocation programme in Kudremukh, who is now an advocate of the programme and is actively involved in motivating and helping people move out.

In gratitude, he calls the WCS India Program staff Dharanappa, who helped him with the relocation to his new place, as “my brother”.

Shetty who owned 2.5 acres in Kerekatte growing paddy, areca nut and pepper was paid Rs 78 lakhs by the government, part of which he used to buy 3.1 acres at  Bidregodu, Thirthahalli Taluk, Shivamoga District.

 

Sudhakar Shetty’s new house in Bidregodu, Thirthahalli Taluk, Shivamoga District © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

A progressive farmer, he can give you solid arguments on why it is not profitable to grow paddy in the wetlands  of Western Ghats that receive heavy rainfall. For one, the heavy rains will wash away any fertilisers used. Farmers will spend Rs 15,000 an acre per crop  and make about Rs 8,000, he adds. That is the reason he has stopped cultivating paddy.  He now has  pepper, areca nut and coffee on his land. There is monkey menace, he agrees but shrugs it off as a lesser evil.

Today, he buys “Israel manure” for his areca nut crop from a firm in Sagara. He has no idea what it is but has seen it help on a neighbouring farmer’s land.

Known to be politically connected, though he disclaims any interest in politics, Shetty knows to talk. He will tell you that what is required today are not loan waivers for all farmers or subsidies across the board, but ways in which to make agriculture profitable. Get us the processing units and storage units. Waive loans only for small farmers, he says.

Part of a farming community settled in the forests during the Grow More Food campaign of the 50s, his family has been living within the national park for the last seven decades. A brother and sister are still among the 400 families living in Kerekatte enclosure.

The Kudremukh relocation package is unique in many ways. It is completely funded by the state government, and beneficiaries are paid amounts according to the valuation of the land they hold, the standing crop, permanent structures such as house, cattle sheds etc. Some have even been paid up to Rs 1 crore.  Most of the residents in the park have legal title over their property.  There are examples of families approaching the Karnataka High Court seeking directions to the government to sanction relocation benefit.

 

Abandoned house inside Kudremukh National Park © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

The relocation also had its unique set of challenges for the government and NGOs like WCS, working to secure better lives for people and wildlife. For one, there was the naxal (Maoist)  problem with the group demanding de-notification of Kudremukh National Park and opposing relocation of families from the area. Then there was the problem of rumours and speculations, especially against WCS which took up few cases of relocation as part of private  funded land purchase of land. From being accused of making commissions and called as government agents  the staff had to face many challenges. Media and politics played each other in the initial years when there was talk of declaring the park as a tiger reserve.

Often, village heads would make the decision for all families. Even if a family wanted to move out, this would be prevented.

Added to all that were the issues of land ownership. The documents are still in the name of deceased grandparents, partition deeds are missing, and so on. Family members who had moved out of the land with their shares would come back demanding a share of the compensation amount. This is resisted by those who had stayed and struggled on the land.

Helping the applicants get an Aadhar card — a must for relocation — to procuring ownership documents, the WCS India Program staff duo Ramchandra Bhat and Dharanappa M, supports the families who seek help. In the process they have had their bit of run-ins with the naxals. During November 2013,  Ramachandra  Bhat was threatened by the group and had his vehicles set afire at midnight in front of his house.

Today, with the air all cleared, there is no more need to go talk and convince the people anymore, says Bhat. Now families willing to relocate call us and come to us, he says, and in most cases it is about missing documents, or to help with the application.

According to P M Muthanna, Assistant Director, Conservation with WCS, things are going well in the Kudremukh relocation. “Even if 25 families can be moved out every year, it is good enough,” he says.

In some cases of encroachment or missing documents, WCS has been stepping in with private funds, as government money is not available for these cases.

 

Sholas of Kudremukh National Park © Kiran Yadav/WCS India

There were around 800 families living in the park. Around 230 have moved out since March 2010, when 12 families from the Belthangady range got their cheques from the government. The rest are stuck due to various reasons – lack of funding from the government, missing documents, family disputes,  delay in valuation process, frequent transfer of officers, etc. Finding suitable property outside the Kudremukh park to relocate is also delaying the movement of families, says Dharanappa. Some are also biding time to see when the land and crop value will escalate, bringing them a higher package.

As the worldly-wise Shetty quips philosophically, “That’s human nature, whether it be in cities or villages, we always want more!”

Written by Jayalakshmi K

 

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