Monday, May 9, 2011

Radical Transformation of Rural Karnataka

Radical Transformation of Rural Karnataka

By Nandkumar Kamat

MANY a times in Goa, I wonder how little we know about our neighbouring states -Maharashtra and Karnataka. We in Goa need to learn from all the positive developments in these large states. We hold the writers, scholars, poets and playwrights of Karnataka in high esteem.
I have valuable memories of enlightening literary encounters with Dr Shivaram Karanth, Girish Karnad, U R Ananthmurthy and Dr K S Bhairappa. P Gururaj Bhatt’s magnum opus on History and culture of Tulu Nadu had shown me the ancient spatio-temporal cultural continuum between Goa and coastal Karnataka.
Ananthmurthy created the cultural and natural landscape of Malnad in front of our eyes. Karanth’s novels captured the essence of life and toils of people in Western Ghats and rural Karnataka. His work was richly complimented by our own Konkani writer-Mahabaleshwar Sail. Sail’s depiction of culture of Kali river basin is matchless in modern Indian literature. After journeying 1300 kms to Bengaluru and back, a new vista of Karnataka’s developmental transformation opened before me last week on background of these cultural images. I reached Goa with very positive and optimistic images of urbanism in Karnataka and the clear evidence of methodical transformation of the rural areas.
Throughout this journey, I was trying to contrast and superimpose images from Goa’s urban and rural settings on Karnataka’s landscape. It is virtually a chaos on Goa’s narrow roads. But I found people in Bengaluru tolerating the dust, digging and discomfort in order to get the precious Metro line in the city. Despite very heavy traffic there was a sense of order and discipline. Between Haveri to Tumkur – a section of golden quadrilateral is being widened and repaired. The technology is world-class. At more than 30 locations vehicles have to take a detour by the service roads to get back on the expressway. But once you drive on the expressway you know what good roads mean to an economy. If Goa gets a similar East-West and North-South corridor then it would tremendously boost economy, trade, travel and tourism. It appears that the Karnataka government has focused on massive infrastructural upgradation. Even the smallest of the roads are getting repaired and are given a coating of premixed hot carpet. There is considerable difference between the rural setting of Goa and Karnataka.
Signage in Karnataka : Villages in Karnataka have retained their agrarian identity but there is no haste to get converted into a semi urban area. The character of agricultural operations in Karnataka is changing as we could see large number of farm machinery in operation. The most striking feature of rural Karnataka’s landscape is the signage. Every nameplate, signboard is exclusively in Kannada. It is assertion of Kannada everywhere unlike in Goa dominated by English signage. I traveled from Ankola to Sirsi and joined Haveri to connect the expressway to Bengaluru. The return travel took me through Malnad – by Tumkur-Tiptur-Shimoga-Sagar-Honavar highway. In this circuit one can experience the rural transformation of Karnataka. The roads have improved considerably. Shimoga city and suburbs are undergoing transformation - a new sewage line and new roads are being laid out. The markets are overflowing with goods. At the entrance of every village there is a welcome arch unlike in Goa where the village panchayats seldom care to indicate their existence.
In Malnad the villages were so meticulously well maintained that we couldn’t spot a single piece of plastic waste or a heap of burning garbage for several kilometers. Goa is spoiling its’ aesthetic beauty by permitting high rise apartments in villages. But in Karnataka the strict adherence to local designs, building materials and elevation control impresses you. The government school buildings in Goa have ugly architecture and appear like matchboxes. But the new schools and educational complexes which we saw in rural Karnataka were breathtakingly beautiful. On the outskirts of Shimoga on road to Sagar a new technological institute is under construction- its’ architecture combines the traditional and modern elements and blends very well in the rustic, gently undulating Malnad landscape.
Strong grass-root bodies: Even the schools under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan had nice graffiti and cartoons painted on the walls. We could see the impact of good micro level planning and use of some creative imagination in these public funded developmental works. This was possible because unlike Goa where ministers centralise all the powers and are opposed to implement devolution of powers and duties under 73rd and 74th amendments, Karnataka has been in forefront in strengthening the panchayati raj institutions (PRI) movement. Karnataka has a three tier system of local self governance and has devolved many powers to PRIs under 73 rd constitutional amendment. Anyone can see the results. The people have a better say in spatial planning, in building community assets like schools, health centres, hospitals and village tanks. In Malnad every village is marked by one or two well-maintained large reservoirs which were full despite a very warm summer.
Agriculture, industries coexist: In Goa it has become a fashion among the owners of paddy fields to keep their lands uncultivated. These absentee landlords have broken every law of the land and have gone unpunished thanks to their political patrons. In rural Karnataka every piece of land is intensively cultivated. Near Haveri we came across farms spread over several kilometers and ploughed by farmers who travel 10 -20 kms everyday to maintain them. Some farms take three crops a year besides growing fodder for the cattle. The agricultural surplus is now getting niche markets. If anyone buys strings of local shallots in Goa’s annual feasts of provision- ‘purumetache fest’ then it would be a mistake to consider these as Goan crops because these are imported from Karnataka. There are roadside onion vendors near Ankola-Karwar who market these shallots. The variety is similar to the one grown in Goa. But as compared to Karwar the price it fetches in Goa is more than double.
Karnataka villages have sacrificed parcels of land for establishing industries. Farmers in Haveri are being persuaded to part with their lands for a new mega steel plant. The government is promising them compensation and jobs in the steel factory. Agriculture and industries have coexisted in Karnataka for a long time. But there are new conflicts. Traders in Ankola were agitated due to heavy mining traffic. The road between Kumta to Karwar is always packed with ore carrying trucks. There are new developmental pressures- people want a new railway link connecting Hubli to Ankola. But there are fears of its’ impact on core areas of Western Ghats. While following different trajectories of growth and development, people in Goa and Karnataka need to learn from each other and adopt the best and most sustainable practices. Together they can prosper and build a strong regional economy while caring for ecology.

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