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Brijesh Kalappa
Thursday , November 10, 2011 at 14 : 10

Bringing Coorg to the mainstream a national duty


While it is widely expected that the vexed Telangana issue is likely to be resolved during the current session of Parliament, the Parliament ought to also collectively think of a plan of action to settle the demands of the Kodava People of Coorg District in Karnataka. The Coorgs have been agitating for over two decades seeking the grant of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The fact that the community which holds a special exemption to carry a fire arm and yet has conducted its protest in a peaceful manner, with not even a harsh word spoken against the administration, is testimony to this martial community's over-weaning commitment to non-violence.

This is accentuated by the fact that a number of this community's members have served the Armed Forces with distinction, Field Marshall KM Cariappa, General Thimmaiah being the notable ones. At any given point in time, the number of persons serving the forces far exceeds the proportion of any other set of people from any other region of India. Coorg has also given the nation some of the finest sportsmen. The contribution of Coorg to the cause of the nation has been phenomenal, it is only appropriate that the country considers the immense contribution of Coorg and its people and accommodates them in the national mainstream.

Coorg is the birthplace of the river Cauvery and has retained its distinct identity through its unique customs, traditions, racial features and lifestyle. It contributes as much as 180 TMC of water to the Cauvery River Basin, and yet its denizens receive far less than 1 TMC towards drinking and irrigational use. The human population of the district numbers 5,45,000, as per the 2001 Census and 5,54,000 as per the 2011 Census, with a population growth of less than 10,000 over an entire decade. There are no prizes for guessing that Coorg suffered considerably by the delimitation exercise carried out in 2008.

While it was previously thought that the number of Kodavas around the globe is about 1.5 lakh, with about 1.2 lakh settled in Coorg, the Bureau of Economics and Statistics has recently reported that the population of Kodavas has alarmingly dwindled from 1.5 lakh in 2001 to 1.25 lakh in 2011.

One has to know the past to understand the present. The earlier privileges enjoyed by the Kodava People ought to provide some perspective on their present demands. Keeping the provisions of the Government of India Act 1919 in mind, under the Government of India Act, 1935, the Coorg Legislative Council had to send two representatives of the state of the Legislative Assembly to the Federal Legislative of India as per the recommendations of British Cabinet Council Mission. After the adoption of the Constitution of India Act, 1950 under the Part 'C' States Act, 1951, the Coorg Legislative Council ceased to exist and a new Legislative Assembly came into existence, in the year 1952.

Article 242 of the Constitution of India which recognised the state of Coorg was inserted exclusively to protect the interests of the region. This Legislative Assembly not only had legislative powers, but under the seventh schedule of the Constitution, it was included in the state list as well as in the concurrent list. The erstwhile Coorg State had its own representatives, one to the Lok Sabha and another to the Rajya Sabha. From 1952 to November 1, 1956, Coorg had a Legislative Assembly with 24 members and had a full fledged Government, which was known to be a model part 'C' State in the whole of India. In 1956, it merged with the State of Karnataka and became a district with three legislators to represent it in the State Assembly. The delimitation exercise reduced that strength to two.

Coorg has an area of 1595 square miles, making it four times larger than Hong Kong, and seven times larger than Singapore. The land is fertile and accounts for varied and valuable agricultural crops including coffee, oranges, pepper and cardamom. The district lies at a distance of 252 km from Bangalore and 1525 m above sea level lies Madikeri, the district headquarters of Kodag.

Coorg or Kodag was dubbed as the Scotland of India, this district has a lot to offer to the tourist. Misty hills, lush forest, acres and acres of tea and coffee plantation, orange groves, undulating streets and breathtaking views are what make it an unforgettable holiday destination. It is one of the most unspoilt regions of south-west India. Hiking trails run from lowland jungle up through coffee plantations shaded by wild trees and finally through wild forests onto high ridges of natural grassland. The Kodava food is divine and regarding its people, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked: "Coorg has given great generals to the Indian Army. It is noted for its choicest coffee and if I am permitted to add one more to these specialties, I can mention that Coorg is famous for its beautiful and comely women."

Coorg today has however slipped from its pre-eminence and is a pale shadow of its glorious former self. The average man in Coorg, though having assimilated into the local stock, feels alienated from the hustle and bustle of Indian democracy and considers himself as rather different from other citizens of his State.

Since history has it that Coorg has been an independent entity till 1956, at the very least, they ought to have their own parliamentarian who can address their own specific issues. In the absence of this, the Coorgs are reduced to being mute spectators in this participative democracy. Special consideration has always been given to people belonging to the hills in an attempt to preserve their special customs and tradition and in addition to the fact that they are shy by nature and non-participative, unlike the people of the plains.

In this rather dim scenario, there had been a rather rash uprising to claim statehood for itself, this uprising has now channelled itself into a demand for a autonomous council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India on the lines of the Gorkhaland Hill Council.

It is the solemn duty of the government to offer adequate representation to its people to ensure a participative democracy. It is therefore the thrust of the Kodavas that the Centre considers an ethno linguistic minority tribal national status for Kodavas under Article 340, 342 of our Constitution and to extend reservation facilities in the field of education, employment and financial benefits on the lines set by the Constitution of India.

This, accompanied by recognition of an autonomous region such as the one in Gorkhaland, by an entry under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, a constitutional special guarantee for land tenure and customary personnel laws on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern States of India under article 370 and 371 of the Constitution of India, besides due representation in the House of the People and the Council of States, will go a long way in preserving this unique cultural heritage.


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More about Brijesh Kalappa

Brijesh Kalappa, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the Additional Advocate General, Haryana. A former journalist, he has a wide range of interests including reading and travelling. He has worked with several legal luminaries on subjects of importance in civil, criminal, water and electoral laws and has individually represented governments, eminent individuals and major industrial houses. Gifted with the prowess for distinctive sharp-edged analysis, he has been working closely with several leaders of the Indian National Congress.