Landslides, floods due to mining and tourism

BENGALURU: Unabated illegal sand , and a steep increase in and infrastructure development activities are being cited as the major causes for the monsoon mayhem in Kodagu and other Malnad districts, which claimed at least 12 lives in the past fortnight.

department officials said rampant illegal sand mining weakened embankments at many places along the Cauvery and its tributaries, which collapsed in the face of a steady buildup of water in the rain , following record rain.

The worst affected in Kodagu are villages on the banks of the Hattihole, a tributary of the Harangi river that connects Cauvery at Kudige in Somwarpet taluk. Officials said there had been extensive damage to embankments of Hattihole, where illegal sand mining and encroachment was rampant, while protection bunds had caved in.

“Encroachments on both banks of the river have narrowed down the river’s width. The riverbed, which had a sand carpet 15–20 ft thick, spread across its width, has disappeared following indiscriminate mining of sand for over a decade, in spite of rules prohibiting such activities,” said Satish Charmanna, a local coffee planter and green activist.

The situation is similar in Lakshmana Theertha and other tributaries of the Cauvery in Kodagu, he added.

Axing trees for resorts

Scores of that destroyed coffee estates and hillside homes in parts of North Kodagu, were a result of deforestation and tourism activities, some locals say. Not long ago, those same sloping hills had a thick forest cover. But illegal tree harvesting by timber smugglers denuded the area, making it ripe for conversion to coffee estates and resorts.

The result, experts say, is persistent soil erosion, landslides and floods that are threatening lives and homes. “There is a close correlation between floods and deforestation, as trees act as a sponge that hold soil and water, and help prevent flooding. When trees disappear, the top soil washes away into riverbeds, cutting their water carrying capacity. That, combined with encroachments like new homes built by the edge of waterways, resulted in raging floods and landslides,” said K B Chittiappa, a former head of the college of forestry in Kodagu.

In the coffee estates of Kodagu, Chikkamagaluru and Sakleshpur (Hassan), big trees that acted as a flood defence mechanism have made way for the exotic silver oak, whose pole-like trunk fetches high commercial value in a few years.

Kodagu’s deforestation is also driven, in part, by a steep increase in demand for housing, resorts and infrastructure development, as a result of population growth and the expansion of towns. For instance, between 2013 and 2015, for instance, over 50,000 trees were cut in Kodagu to make way for high-tension power lines to Kerala.

Illegal resorts started mushrooming in tourist spots in Madikeri, after successive state governments bowed to pressure from the resorts lobby. The conversion of paddy land into housing settlements compounded the problem.

“All this happened despite the Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees recommending restrictions on construction activities in ecologically sensitive zones in the Western Ghats, covering the Malnad districts. Neither the state nor the Centre paid heed to our protests,” said S N Girish, a wildlife activist based in Mysuru. “The nexus between local politicians, revenue officials, police and senior bureaucrats has plundered green gold in Kodagu,” he added.

FAST AND FURIOUS: Floods have washed away the bridge at Haleri, cutting off the area. Rescuers reached the spot on Sunday and evacuated at least 40 families

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