‘Caste factor overwhelms other problems during elections’

Development remains a non-issue in the backward Heggadadevanakote (H.D. Kote) taluk where there is no dearth of problems confronting the public.

Though rich in forests and natural resources, H.D. Kote remains mired in social and economic backwardness and is reckoned to be among the most underdeveloped taluks in the State. Home to tribal communities, H.D. Kote is also one of the few taluks in the country with not a single industry.

Assembly elections may trigger heated debates on development and infrastructure issues elsewhere in the district, but not in H.D. Kote where caste factor seems to overwhelm other issues.

Problems aplenty

Issues such as water shortage, agriculture-related problems, poor condition of canals, man-animal conflict and deforestation are not spoken during elections.

“None of these issues have been raised in the past and I doubt if they will be raised during this elections,” said Vivek Cariappa, an organic farmer from Sargur in H.D. Kote.

Located about 50 km from Mysore, H.D. Kote is along the Karnataka-Kerala border and has a poor network of roads connecting rural areas. The taluk headquarters is an overgrown village.

Agriculture is the main activity in the taluk and despite four dams — Kabini, Nugu, Taraka and Hebbala — agriculture is purely dependent on rain. Water in the reservoirs and canals in the downstream of the dams help irrigate land in other taluks but not in H.D. Kote.

“The rural community is impacted by the Land Acquisition Act, the Forest Rights Act and other laws but none of them come up during elections and neither have previous MLAs raised these issues at the appropriate forum,” he said. Though economy is purely agrarian, the local Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) yard is dysfunctional. Despite the absence of irrigation facilities, H.D. Kote remains a major cotton cultivating taluk and yet neither the voters, who are mostly farmers, nor the elected representatives have spoken of the imperatives of brining cotton under the crop insurance scheme or made it an election issue.

Mr. Cariappa, who started the organic farmers’ movement in the taluk over 25 years ago, pointed out that during the sowing season, the plight of the cultivators was miserable owing to uncertainty over seed and fertilizer supply. “Yet, none of these figure during elections ...”

The taluk has witnessed large-scale displacement in the past, notably during the construction of the Kabini reservoir in the early 1970s when vast swathes of forests and villages were submerged. But those displaced were not suitably rehabilitated. The second round of displacement was witnessed after the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972. However, having paid the price for “development”, lifestyle of people in H.D. Kote has remained unchanged for generations.

In recent years, the taluk witnessed widespread deforestation and the consequent habitat disturbance has intensified man-animal conflict in the region. The boom in ecotourism and proliferation of resorts has fuelled wildlife tourism, but it has not benefited the local community who are not seen as partners in development. “Yet, the forthcoming elections, as before, will be fought purely on caste issues, and the living conditions of the people will remain the unchanged though the same cannot be said of the elected representatives,” Mr. Cariappa said.