By P.T. Bopanna
The rehabilitation of people affected by the major landslides in Kodagu (Coorg) has failed to take off because of the ‘band-aid’ approach of the district administration led by the deputy commissioner P.I. Sreevidya (in picture).
Though the deputy commissioner played a pivotal role in coordinating the rescue operation in mid-August when the killer landslides hit Coorg, her subsequent actions only benefited the timber and tourism lobbies, and not the people who bore the brunt of the landslides.
The DC erred in assuming that she was capable of handling the situation at her level. She should have roped in experts as the magnitude of the tragedy was enormous as thousands of acres of land and dwellings had been flattened by the landslides.
The situation called for expertise and resources that could have been mobilized mainly at the national level, involving agencies of the Union government.
The first blunder committed by the Karnataka government was its failure in submitting a factual report to the prime minister on the situation. Karnataka put together a report which was highly misleading and far from truth.
Karnataka government claimed in the report: “The heavy rainfall and huge amount of water released from the reservoirs flowing in the downstream channels – some of them running parallel to the roads, scooped the area by causing landslides in the adjoining hills and severe damage to roads and buildings in the area.”
This apparent false claim in the report that release of water from reservoirs was responsible for the landslides, was understandably not acted upon by the Centre which failed to release the funds sought by Karnataka.
Karnataka should have prepared a master plan for the holistic development of the affected areas, in consultation with the affected people and also announced a relief package till the completion of rehabilitation.
The government’s decision to build low-cost houses in a different location, may not be the right thing to do in the present situation.
Thammoo Poovaiah of Kodagu Ekikarana Ranga, who is familiar with the areas affected by the landslide, feels that the government’s plan to build houses elsewhere and hand them over to the victims, may not be the right approach. He noted: “These people have lived in independent houses in their estates. Most people want to rebuild their homes somewhere around the land they lost.’’
The focus of the district administration to restore the highway link first, has led to speculation that it was meant to benefit the timber lobby which has the backing of a powerful Karnataka minister. Thousands of trees had been uprooted in the landslides and the vested interests wanted to transport the timber on a priority basis.
It may be recalled that villagers had intercepted timber lorries on highways where moving of heavy vehicles were banned in the wake of damage to roads following landslides.
The mishandling of the situation by the district administration has led to a situation where the victims have only received token cash compensation from the government. Consequently, they are not in a position to rebuild their lives.
Chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy who is slated to visit Coorg on October 18, should sort out the mess and kick-start the rehabilitation of the affected people at the earliest.