Kodagu: Have local leaders put politics over relief?

Madhuri Adnal

Madikeri, Aug 22: Local politics seems to have taken precedence over providing aid to the flood-affected people of Kodagu in Karnataka. Many groups in the small town are trying to divert material meant for relief shelters as people with political affiliations want the credit of providing the relief material to go to its leaders in the hope that it would fetch votes in the upcoming urban local body (ULB) elections, scheduled for 29 August. This is significant as the upcoming ULB elections in more than 2,500 wards is key to mobilizing the grassroot workers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

"Initially, we asked private groups to distribute food and material. However, many local leaders diverted the goods to their own warehouses. They are giving it to people they choose and not necessarily those who need it most," a local government official overseeing relief operations in Kodagu said, asking not to be named. "They have waylaid many relief trucks and are not allowing the material to be unloaded," the official said.

The situation is like that of the Chennai floods of December 2015 when supporters of then Tamil Nadu chief minister, the late J. Jayalalithaa, insisted that relief material be distributed with stickers and pictures of the leader, irrespective of who donated the goods.The political interference is making work in Kodagu, which has witnessed incessant rain over the past few weeks and where relief and rescue operations are in full swing, that much harder for local officials, who fear a backlash from political parties.

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The problem started when Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), chief H.D. Deve Gowda's grandson Prajwal Revanna visited Kodagu earlier this month to meet people affected by the rains. A resident of Madapura, about 25km from Madikeri, said that some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers opposed this and asked Revanna to turn back. Revanna could not be reached for comment. Senior leaders of the JD(S) and the BJP have downplayed the incident.

"Sometimes these things happen at the panchayat level. But there is no problem as BJP legislators have accompanied me during relief work," said Sa Ra Mahesh, minister in charge of Kodagu district as well as tourism. However, people of the area said that they are being denied basic necessities because of political reasons.

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The district authorities in the coffee growing regions of Kodagu have said they will direct donors to affected areas based on requirement, as relief materials continue to pile up. However, while some camps are getting abundant relief materials, many others are yet to get any aid.

"We do not know who to approach for this. Many people are telling us that only those in relief centres or 'Ganji Kendras' will be given aid," said Padmavathi, a resident of Muvathoklu village, who is now living with her sister in a nearby town.

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