Air Marshal K.C. Cariappa (retd), an environmentalist who took on the powerful timber lobby in Kodagu district of Karnataka is the ‘Coorg Person of the Year, 2009’.
Air Marshal Cariappa, son of Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, topped a poll conducted by www.coorgtourisminfo.com, the first news portal of Kodagu, to select the Coorg Person of the Year.
The others who were in the reckoning for the title, include another hardcore environmentalist and President of the Coorg Wildlife Society, Col C.P. Muthanna (retd) and New York-based novelist Sarita Mandanna, who has been given the largest advance by Penguin India ever paid to a debut novelist for her novel ‘Tiger Hills’, set in Kodagu.
Taking a pro-active role, Air Marshal Cariappa went beyond the ‘call of duty’ and approached the Supreme Court of India to restrain the timber mafia, backed by the Kodagu district administration and sundry politicians to prevent the formation of a road across the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary in Kodagu in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.
Following a public interest litigation filed by Air Marshal Cariappa, the Apex Court directed the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to make an on the spot study of the situation and file a report.
In a blatant violation of the law, the Kodagu district administration, backed by the two Kodagu MLAs, and supported by local villagers attempted to lay a road through the Pushpagiri reserve forest, amid opposition from Karnataka forest officials.
The controversial road is a seven km stretch between Madikeri and Subramanya near Mangalore in Dakshina Kannada district. Over 400 villagers from Galibeedu near Madikeri, deployed earthmovers to make the road. Their contention was that the road would shorten the distance between Kodagu and Subramanya.
In a mockery of justice, the villagers were provided ‘police protection’ to form the road by the district administration, headed by the then Deputy Commissioner Baldev Krishna.
The top district officials, including the Superintendent of Police, went to the extent of publicly humiliating forest official Anil Rathan who protested against the road being formed through the reserve forest.
Air Marshal Cariappa was commissioned into the Indian Air Force in 1957 and he was shot down in the 1965 India-Pakistan war while carrying out attacks on enemy positions and taken Prisoner of War (POW). When President Ayub Khan of Pakistan, an old buddy of Field Marshal Cariappa, offered to release his son forthwith, the later famous said: “They (other POWs) are all my sons, look after all of them.”
After retirement from the Air Force in 1996, Air Marshal Cariappa has been living at Madikeri in Kodagu. He has been taking a keen interest in environment and was the President of the Coorg Wildlife Society for four years. Two years ago, Air Marshal Cariappa wrote the biography of his father, which brought out his literary talent as a writer. He is a keen student of international and military affairs.
Dr Jagadeesh Subbaiah Moodera, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and winner of Oliver E. Buckley Prize, was the Coorg Person of the Year, 2008.
The past winners of Coorg Person of the Year include cricketer Robin Uthappa, researcher Dr Boverianda Nanjamma Chinnappa, and novelist Kaveri Poonacha Nambisan.
www.coorgtourisminfo.com portal is run by Bangalore-based freelance journalist and writer P.T. Bopanna.