What is Kodagu’s Future in the Years Ahead? – Asks Air Marshal K C Cariappa

(Son of the late Field Marshal K M Cariappa, Air Marshal (Retired) Kodandera ‘Nanda’ Cariappa PVSM was born on January 14, 1938. He did his schooling at the Lawrence School Sanawar in the Shimla Hills from where he joined the Joint Services Wing, Dehra Dun, now renamed as the National Defence Academy Kharakvasla. At school and in the Academy he earned his ‘colours’ in Cricket, Cross Country running, Table Tennis, Squash, Swimming and Athletics.

He was commissioned into the Indian Air Force on May 29, 1957 and was posted to a fighter squadron where he served for six years before attending a course at the Flying Instructors’ School in Chennai. He graduated as a Flying Instructor in November 63 and served at the Pilots’ Training Establishment in Allahabad till the outbreak of the 1965 war against Pakistan.

On September 22, he was shot down while carrying out attacks on enemy positions and was taken Prisoner of War. He remained in captivity till January 22, 1966. Because of injuries sustained in war he was temporarily unfit to fly fighter aircraft and therefore was appointed as Aide to the then Chief of Air Staff.

On completion of his tenure he converted to helicopters and was posted to command a helicopter unit in North Bengal. He served in that capacity till after the end of the Bangladesh War of Independence. For his gallantry he was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal. After the war he reverted to flying fighter aircraft and in 1976 was appointed commander of one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force.

Air Marshal Cariappa has held various important staff and command appointments which have included the command of three premier flying air bases. In 1988 he was appointed to attend the prestigious course at the Royal College of Defence Studies in UK. He was promoted to the rank of Air Marshal in 1994 and in May that year was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force’s South Western Air Command in Jodhpur. In January 1995 he was honoured by the President of India with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his distinguished services to the Indian Air Force.

His hobbies and pastimes include trekking and involvement with wildlife and environmental activities. The Air Marshal is a keen student of international and military affairs and has written articles for journals and newspapers on matters pertaining to his varied interests. He is married to Meena who has specialized in the education of physically and mentally challenged children.

Commonly known to his friends and admirers as ‘Nanda’, he is our regular reader as are thousands of others of Kodagu origin. We are happy to present his exclusive write-up which shows his deep concern for his homeland and the environmental issues.)

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Air Marshal K C ‘Nanda’ Cariappa with the heritage mansion ‘Roshanara’  in Madikeri, so dearly loved by his father, the late Field Marshal K M Cariappa during his lifetime, in the backdrop

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No one who has loved Kodagu with its lofty mountainsides once covered by dark, primeval forests – today laid bare by the axe of the rapacious timber smuggler – or the bright green valleys studded with picturesque farmsteads should tolerate what is being done to our homeland.

It is given to us in trust by our forefathers for the well-being of future generations, who, alas, are forsaking the land for other pastures. As our young women and men leave, they are being replaced by others from different states who cannot possibly have the same love and feeling for the land. We are now swamped by the vices and the advantages of civilization, without being able to preserve what was bestowed upon us.

Over the years a lot has been written about the environmental degradation, and the destruction of the landscape in Madikeri specifically, and of Kodagu in general. There was a time when the ridges of the hills surrounding the town were not visible because of the trees that hid them.

Slowly, but progressively, the trees have disappeared to virtually denude the ridges. Ugly structures scar the skyline and a large area has been scoured out of the hillside where detritus and refuse of the city is dumped.

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This includes the hospital waste from government and private facilities. It is an eyesore. For unknown reasons, no thought has been given to the construction of an incinerator to dispose of these and other toxic wastes.

With each new large-scale construction of residential layouts, ‘gated’ housing colonies and resorts, the situation is deteriorating alarmingly. The infrastructure is being stretched to the limit as are civic facilities. The administration is aware of this and yet is unable to curb unplanned constructions and haphazard layouts that appear to have the approval of the urban development authority.

Objections and views of the citizens of the district are not considered because we do not matter. Everything, we are told, is being done for ‘prosperity and progress’ – the new mantra. As citizens we are expected to accept that homily in the belief that perhaps somewhere and sometime all this will cease as realization dawns in the minds of the authority concerned that the face of our homeland is being scarred and marred beyond redemption.

Is there any reason why houses are being constructed on what were paddy fields? I was under the impression that apart from agricultural purposes such lands could not be put to any other purpose. No amount of skin-grafts or plastic surgery will restore the once-famed beauty of our homeland.

Madikeri is being urbanized rapidly and attempts are being made to bring it on par with the larger cities and towns in Karnataka, even though it is a completely different environment. The emphasis appears on making this a perfect tourist destination.

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​This transformation is being carried out to encourage more and more tourists to visit since perhaps it is the only ‘hill station’ in the state, and to provide them with modern facilities available elsewhere. In the process the environment is taking a beating.

Is there, for example, any reason why paddy fields are being converted into housing sites? I was under the impression that such lands could only be used for agricultural purposes. The land is being wrung dry, and the very lifeline that sustains it is being squeezed dry.

In this connection a new idea seems to have exercised the minds of the ‘powers-that-be’. It has to do with the ‘beautification’ and expansion of the Raja’s Seat area by making it ‘even more’ attractive to the thousands of mindless tourists who throng to Madikeri every weekend. They tend to treat the city as one large trash bin, leaving behind a trail of waste.

In the scheme of things a variety of innovations are being considered. I do not know how much money will be spent in the process; however, if there is even a hint of truth to what one hears, it boggles the mind as to what that expansion will entail!

As it is, the road leading to Raja’s Seat is virtually impassable in the evening because of the haphazard manner in which vehicles are parked. As it is the police are having a difficult time in dealing with the situation even in the normal control of day-to-day traffic.

Another area of concern is the new medical college and hospital that is under construction north of the town. Does anyone – apart from the contractor and other ‘beneficiaries’ – know what this has entailed? How many tonnes, and how many cubic feet of earth have been removed? I do not!

A road has been cleaved through a hillside to provide access to this facility. I walked along what appears to be a four-lane, 18” thick, cement-concrete highway that leads off the Abbi Falls road. It will, I think, be about 2 km in length. To construct it, a spur had been cut some 400’ across to a depth of over 200 feet. It was once a forested hillside, home to a variety of wildlife that from time to time would find their way into a neighbouring coffee estate much to the delight of the owner.

Alas! This is no more the case. With the trees, the wildlife too has disappeared. Despite objections and suggestions that perhaps other accesses could be considered they were run over roughshod and work continued apace. I don’t know when this work will be completed, but once done a new environmental hazard will be thrust upon us hapless citizens.

How do the authorities intend dealing with the huge quantities of hospital waste that will be generated? Will it go the same way of sewage from the town as it flows into the stream that eventually finds its way into the Harangi dam downstream?

Has any thought been given to this major environmental hazard that will affect the population living downstream as it pollutes the springs that provide water to homesteads causing sickness and disease?

Incidentally, it was once suggested that Madikeri is not the best location for the hospital because of its relative inaccessibility to other parts of the country, and that Kushalnagar would be the better choice. Or, is this part of a more sinister scheme in Machiavellian minds to lay a railway line from Mysore to Sampaje to Mangalore?

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Of late a large number of ‘layouts’ are mushrooming all over the district and around Madikeri. I presume they have the approval of the town-planning authorities, or have they turned a ‘blind eye’ and just signed on the dotted line? Has an ‘environment impact assessment’ been done? Have the promoters been asked such basic questions as to the quantity of electricity and power required? Will bore-wells be dug to further deplete underground aquifers? And, will resonance of ‘captive power’ disturb the peace and quiet of a gentle neighborhood? What plans are there for domestic sewage disposal? What parking facilities are being provided within the layouts/colonies? Does Madikeri have the infrastructure to cope with this mindless expansion?

In similar vein, are the large numbers of commercial buildings that are seemingly coming up as and where the builder wants, being ‘cleared’ by the urban development authority? Why is he permitted to dump his material on an already narrow road with no thought given to traffic using it? No consideration is ever given to whether a road is wide enough to take the increased traffic, or whether the builder ever considers adequate parking facilities that do not impinge the smooth flow of traffic. Or for that matter providing footpaths for pedestrians who no one considers worth thinking about!
In this connection I would like to question the decision to widen the Mahadevpet road. Is there anything wrong with keeping it a one-way street? As it is our roads are narrow enough, made even more so with vehicles being parked on either side.

How does its being widened add to progress and prosperity? What is wrong with having ‘one-way’ streets unless the police are incapable of enforcing the rule? Why do the authorities not indicate to the public if a road is being repaired or closed to traffic for any reason? A hapless driver only knows of this when she or he arrives at the site where repairs or construction activity is taking place? Perhaps I am too thick-headed to understand?

Many years ago, I had written about the impact of the school that has been constructed on the south-facing slope of Swagatabetta hill that overlooks the town. My concern then, as now, is whether the hillside will in time get defaced by houses, or colonies coming up there. I shudder to think what will happen to that once-upon-a-time green hill slope becoming a ghetto! The signs are there for all to see!

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How are we going to cope once these ‘gifts’ to our fair city(?) / town(?) become a reality? It will, unless we citizens of Kodagu do something to express our anguish and angst at being ridden over roughshod. Perhaps a citizens’ committee could be formed to discuss all such issues with the administration.

Instead of all the wasteful expenditure why not look at improving facilities for the inhabitants of the district? For example, is it too much to ask for an electric crematorium in a place that receives over 100” of rain annually? Where is the firewood to come from? Should we continue to denude our forests? Why not additional children’s parks in different parts of the city? As I am aware there is only one at present. Or, for that matter a network of footpaths to cater to the pedestrians, local or tourist.

There is an attitude in the Indian psyche that the best way to dispose of an unpleasant situation, or awkward situations is to avoid it, or shelve it.

In other words the ‘ostrich with its head in the sand’ syndrome! Or, there are two other priceless bits of advice ‘svalpa adjust maadi’ or there is the wonderful acronym WALTO that expands to read ‘we are like this only’!!

Alas, Madikeri, it appears, is destined to go the same devastated way as other hill stations virtually all over the country.

7 Comments

  1. this write up definitely highlights the need of the day. but how does one go about this preservation of our beautiful homeland. the authorities involved in creating this mess, just dont care.

  2. The Air Marshal has raised many valid points and asked an equal number of questions. Sadly, most of his questions can be answered at one go. We are in this mess because our regulatory bodies celebrate their appointments, not because it gives them a chance to protect the public and ensure their greater good but, instead, they view their appointment as an opportunity to subvert and run aground all efforts at sustainability and eco-conservation for pecuniary benefits – to themselves.
    The Ministers in charge of these portfolios (Environment, Tourism, Transport, Town Planning etc.) at State levels at least, do not know better or, if they do; do not care, for they are all a part of this ill gotten ‘food chain’.
    I am afraid that most of Air Marshal Cariappa’s fears will come true in the very near future just as he has pointed out. I am also sure that when things reach such a pass that action just HAS to be taken, to repair our broken system, the late intervention will be cosmetic and inadequate.
    We elect our Ministers while the civil servants are paid out of the exchequer financed by us tax payers. We expect this team to protect our short and long term interests; to be pro-active, to look ahead, anticipate and block the greed of insensitive builders and developers. Instead, we see this team running helter skelter to set right situations that should never have occurred in the first place. They seem to be very good at closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. If that is all this team is capable of, we would be doing as well by electing scythes and paying stable hands out of the exchequer instead!

  3. The picture painted by Air Marshal Cariappa of the future of Madikeri and Kodagu in general is frightening. But all one has to do is look around Madikeri town and its surroundings to see that its just a matter of time before the Air Marshals fears come to pass . JCBs cutting through once picturesque hillocks for constructions and layouts are a common sight. This degradation will continue as long as the authorities in charge have only a myopic view and no long term plan for the well being of Kodagu and the environment . For those of us who love Kodagu , its indeed a sad sight.

  4. I don’t understand why five star facility is needed to attract tourists. In western countries people / government try to preserve natural beauty which they have very less but in India we have so much natural beauty people/government try to ruin it. I had been to madikere when harengi dam was under construction, I loved it but last year I visited, its all gone, If this happens in couple of years madikere will be concrete town losing all beauty.

  5. Air Marshal Cariappa has clearly explained the scary scenario awaiting Madikeri in particular and Kodagu in general. It is unfathomable how the authorities concerned could be this callous and short-sighted. Kodagu is an attractive tourist destination purely because of its unpolluted environment. All the unregulated, unnecessary and avoidable development in the name of progress is harming this very attraction. The Minister-in-charge and the elected representatives need to take note of the disaster waiting to happen if urgent corrective steps are not taken.

  6. Kodagu is the Principal Catchment of River Cauvery and provides almost fifty percent of the total inflow to Cauvery. River Cauvery is the lifeline to more than Eight Crore people and Six Hundred Major industries across South India. Kodagu is perhaps the most important district in the entire Country! It is therefore in the NATIONAL INTEREST to protect the Kodagu Landscape.

    Against this background it is with growing dismay that we see Kodagu being ravaged by the day due to brisk land conversions,unregulated urbanisation, invasive tourism, ‘development projects’ causing massive tree felling and large scale sand mining that is destroying our rivers and streams.

    So what is the way forward? The answer lies in the entire district being declared as an Eco Sensitive Zone under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act. Mount Abu, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Matheran etc have been declared as ESZs as they are important catchment areas. Kodagu definitely qualifies for this tag. If the policy makers are not prepared to take a call due to vested interests, then the matter must go to Court. The declaration of Kodagu as an ESZ should not however burden the people of Kodagu. Hence the provisions of the ESZ for Kodagu should be so articulated that there are no draconian measures that disturb the existing plantation and agriculture practices. The concept of Payment of Ecological Services [PES] must be implemented for Kodagu. The College of Forestry, Ponnampet has prepared a document on the scope of PES for Kodagu and these recommendations can be the basis for taking the idea forward. This will ensure that the people of Kodagu are able to live in an environment of Social, Financial, and Cultural Security, and it will hep to create a Win-Win situation.

  7. The people of Kodagu, Dakshina and Uttara Kannada, Hassan and Chikmagalur are about to lose their wooded landscape forever. The Kasturirangan report having been rejected and today’s newspaper (8th July 2015) says development projects (to be read as eco-destruction projects) will be allowed in the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in Karnataka. Soon this beautiful Malnad region will look like the Mysore or Hubli region. 25,000 acres have been earmarked for industrial development near Madikeri. A railway track is planned from Mysore to Kushalnagar on the border of Kodagu and then to Madikeri. Lakhs and lakhs of trees will be cut for the so-called development. This railway line is actually financially not viable (only the timber money can make it viable). Inflated tourism figures are given to break resistance to the railway. People who are not from Kodagu are being asked what they want for Kodagu. Even the MP Pratap Simha is helping to clear the way for the project. What hope do we have? Who gives the ruling government the power to destroy precious environmental resources that have belonged to the people for thousands of years? We do. We the people of the western ghats who stay quiet as mice, no matter what the elected representatives do. Without the trees, bushes and animals that make up the landscape, soon the 7 rivers of Kodagu: Cauvery, Barapole, Lakshmanatheertha, Nagarahole, Harangi, Payaswini and Kumaradhara will reduce in volume and later stop flowing. The worst affected will be the people of Mysore, Mandya, Bangalore and the Cauvery-dependent region of Tamilnadu. The solution lies in the western ghat communities burying their differences and becoming a vote bank that demands ecological protection as a voting platform. Did that make you laugh ironically? You may yet have the last laugh if the people don’t hear the wake up call.

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