File photo of 2018 Kodagu landslide

By P.T. Bopanna

The back-to-back earthquakes reported in Kodagu (Coorg) district of Karnataka in the last few days has led to panic in the district because the killer landslides which struck the area in 2018 were preceded by an earthquake.

The latest series of tremors were experienced in a few villages of Somwarpet taluk on Thursday and around Karike bordering Kerala state on Saturday.

It may be recalled that a 3.4 magnitude earthquake was recorded on July 9, 2018, around 25 km north-west of Kodagu, prior to the killer landslides which ripped apart parts of the district in August, 2018.

The landslides were preceded by heavy rainfall, measuring more than 200 mm of rainfall on three consecutive days – 15, 16 and 17 August, 2018.

Though Kodagu is not an earthquake-prone area, parts of the Western Ghats in the Koyna region in Maharashtra have experienced frequent earthquakes in the past.

Ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), has opined the floods and landslips in the Western Ghats, in the recent years, were not totally man-made.  “Natural calamities are a complex phenomenon. There will be multiple factors. Extreme rainfalls were partially responsible. But man-made causes too contributed,” he said.

He noted that landslips occur if natural vegetation cover is destroyed. “Construction of roads, certain types of quarries, levelling of land using heavy machineries can all disturb the area and trigger landslips,” he said.

There is no denying the fact that the cutting down of over 50,000 trees in Kodagu a few years ago for the 400KV high tension power line from Mysuru to Kozhikode in Kerala had taken its toll on the land.

T.V. Ramchandra from the Energy & Wetlands Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science who has done extensive study in the area attributed the landslides solely to the unscientific land-use modifications that have been happening in the district for years.

He said that the development of Kodagu and the district’s status as a tourist hotspot have seen many resorts and villas coming up in the area in modified coffee plantations. “In Kodagu, the forest decides people’s economy. If these forest systems are messed with, people pay the price. People lose water and food security,” he said.

This reporter has been highlighting how paddy fields are being converted into housing layouts, despite the back-to-back calamity caused by unscientific land use.

It is learnt that a previous DC had fraudulently given sanctions for conversion of paddy lands into layouts. There is no reason to allow the fraud to be perpetuated. A message should go out that the fragile landscape is not damaged by unscrupulous builders.

More worrying is the proposal of the Bommai government in Karnataka to allow for a three-day timeline for converting agriculture land into non-agriculture land.

The worst part is the role of the opposition Congress leaders in the district who have joined hands with the timber and resort lobbies that are looting the forests. These leaders have failed to voice their opposition to the proposed changes being sought to be made in the land conversion laws.

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