Villagers who bought scheme feel short-changed Others want roads, power

Once past a green check post, the narrow winding road is reduced to a trail of crumbling stones. The predominantly tribal hamlets of Kuthlur, more than two kilometres up this path, are hidden underneath the expansive canopy of the Kudremukh National Park.

The seemingly calm environs is the epicentre of the contentious rehabilitation of tribal people in the district, the spill over of which is suspected to be the reason behind the recent ‘Maoist’ attack on an NGO worker who was aiding rehabilitation.

The village itself is split on the issue of rehabilitation. Out of 37 families that reside here, 16 have applied for rehabilitation. In Belthangady taluk, 31 families have been rehabilitated; 150 applications are under process, while around 120 families have insisted on staying.

Some believe this has created an atmosphere of unease. “Interaction is limited, and we are cold-shouldered. There are no more community meetings,” says Venkappa Malekudiya, who along with his wife Vasanthi, is among the more vocal voices for rehabilitation. Ms. Vasanti says there have been explicit and implicit threats against them.

However, even the government process for rehabilitation has not been easy. Their application, submitted four years ago, is still pending with the Kudremukh Wildlife Department. “No one will purchase our land… it is only the government that is giving us a fair price. We just want to leave,” Mr. Venkappa says. Their 1.58 acres of arecanut fields have not been valuated.

In Nelyatadka village, Vasant Poojary, who has to tend to his 16-year-old son allegedly affected by endosulfan, has been waiting impatiently since he submitted his application two years ago.

Trips to the nearby markets in Naravi are an expensive excursion; the high rates of transporting their produce — on jeeps — to these markets eat into meagre incomes. The bus shelter built four years ago – one of the few signs of development — presents itself as a cruel irony as no public bus has been through this path in decades.

However, for those staying, these reinforce their two demands: roads and electricity. “This is all we want. Why should we leave, when we can continue our struggle… we cannot adjust elsewhere,” says Dejappa Poojary. Ganesh Malekudiya will not leave “even if they offer Rs. 1 crore”.

However, even these basic amenities are a long way off. “Any sort of development, especially power lines as they disturb the habitat of the endangered flying squirrel, has to be approved by the Supreme Court. This is highly unlikely,” says R.L. Naik, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Kudremukh Wildlife Division.

On the lengthy delays in the rehabilitation process, he says: “We do valuation only when the government releases funds… Moreover, most of the tribal people do not have land documents.”

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