Livelihood issues are at stake in Uttara Kannada district

With more than four-fifth of the land covered by forests and an evergreen range of mountains, Uttara Kannada is the greenest district of Karnataka. One would, therefore, expect issues of environmentalism to be in sharp focus in the May 5 Assembly elections.

However, much of the misfortunes of the people in this coastal district are neglected despite or because of the existence of big establishments such as INS Kadamba (Seabird project) and the Kaiga power plant in the area. A sizeable chunk of the population lives in penury having been evicted for various projects or are facing the threat of eviction. Most of the 4,444 families evicted for the Seabird project have been fighting for compensation for lands lost 25 years ago. They only received Rs. 155 per gunta of land acquired for the project. The fate of the evacuees in other hydro-electric projects such at Kodasalli, Supa, or across the Sharavathi is no different, according to Vittal Bhandari, State secretary of Samudaya, a leftist cultural forum.

As if this was not enough, several thousand families (the number is roughly between 30,000 and 50,000) — unflatteringly referred to as encroachers — who have been in occupation of forest lands for generations face the threat of eviction. They are unable to produce documents to prove ownership of the lands they have been tilling. Families still living within the exclusive zone (5-km radius according to activists, 1.6 km according to plant officials) of the Kaiga plant are awaiting rehabilitation. Hundreds more live in the forests falling within the Project Tiger — a section of Anasi National Park — and they too face the threat of eviction.

The district, with a literacy rate of 76 per cent, has very few industries, forcing the educated youth to migrate to neighbouring Goa, Maharashtra and lately Bangalore in search of jobs. The district, whose scenic beauty was admired by Ravindranath Tagore, has failed to emerge a tourism destination.

Halakki, Kunabi and Gouli tribal communities have been fighting for a tribal tag with no success, while fisher folk continue to be haunted by uncertain income. “We were neglected by the Bombay Presidency then, and thereafter by the State government,” rues S.R. Naik, retired principal of Shivaji College, Karwar.

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