Bengaluru/Kodagu: Muddura Nanjappa, 43, a coffee planter from Kandanakoli, a small village in Karnataka’s Kodagu district, was at the North Coorg Club, a plush recreational facility in the heart of Madikeri town, responding to almost every conversation with an occasional smile, but his apprehension was conspicuous.
Of the 12 acres he owned, almost nine acres were lost to landslides following the incessant rains that pounded Kodagu. His house was, however, spared. He trekked for almost an entire day on the slippery sludge to reach home and recover valuables, including property documents. “Don’t know how long the road to my house will take to become motorable," said Nanjappa.
B.N. Suresh of Sitaram Patti near Madikeri, pointed to a large swathe of wasteland from a hilltop, unable to demarcate his two acres of paddy field from that of his neighbours’. The landslide has brought tonnes of debris, including boulders and slush, with possibly people or animals still buried under them.
Nanjappa and Suresh are not alone. Many planters have lost their land holdings in part or in full, and do not even know where to start the rebuilding process or whom to approach for compensation, given that the focus of the state government has primarily been on the displaced population, most of whom are landless agricultural labourers.
Kodagu accounts for 107,089 hectares of the 244,785 hectares coffee plantations in Karnataka, the state which accounts for over 53% of India’s coffee production, according to a May 2018 report by the Coffee Board of India.
During this time of the year, Kodagu is usually abuzz with concerns over fluctuating coffee and pepper (grown inside estates) prices, production and labour shortages. Today, the residents are yet to asses the damage to their plantations. “We haven’t even started thinking in that direction," said Appachu Ranjan, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Madikeri, who also lost about five acres.
According to Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka’s rural development and panchayat raj minister, the state government will have to survey the extent of damage to coffee plantations and agricultural fields. “There will be some compensation, but I do not know if there are provisions to give relief for entire plantations lost."
This year’s rainfall has beaten a 87-year-old record and landslides were unheard off until earlier this month. However, the state government is unsure how the compensation would work this time around.
Nanjappa and other small estate owners are hoping that they would get compensation of their earnings for at least the next five years or the time taken for plants to bear fruit again as this is their main income source, that also provides employment to others.
Gowda, the former state agriculture minister, says. All agricultural insurances, if any, are focused on crop losses or damages which, like Gowda and other planters say, is already inadequate.
With the top soil and all nutrients lost due to landslides (some estates have caved in 50 feet) several planters Mint spoke with say that land may of little use to the owner. “So we are basically screwed," says another planter, before pouring himself another drink.