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Karnataka Elections: Hundreds of Families can Live in Their Homes for Only 8 Months in a Year

Saptasagar village on the banks of Krisha River is among those which have experienced flooding every year since 2019.

The pictures from 2019 (left) and the present day (right) show the extent of the devastation

In the Saptasagar village of Karnataka, hundreds of families are forced to evacuate their homes for four months every year due to flooding caused by excessive rainfall. The water from the Krishna River enters their homes, and in some cases, has completely washed them away.

After two-three months of flooding, the residents spend at least one month removing the water and cleaning their houses. It’s also a considerable effort to rid their homes of the stench left behind by waterlogging.

Located on the banks of the Krishna River, torrential rainfall between the months of June and September leads to Saptasagar village, along with 15 surrounding villages, being completely washed out.

These villages are located in the Belagavi district on the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Belagavi is known as the sugar bowl of Karnataka and is irrigated by the eight rivers flowing through the region. Some rivers originate in Maharashtra and join the Krishna and Ghataprabha rivers. The rivers are in a spate during heavy rainfall, causing flash floods across the district.

Belagavi also emerged as the worst affected region during the 2019 Karnataka floods. The total loss in 2019 was pegged at Rs 11,000 crores by the district administration.

Saptasagar village is among those which have experienced flooding every year since 2019. Moreover, the farmers here only grow sugarcane. Appasaheb Ganapathy Kamble, 57, is a farmer from the Holeya community, which is scheduled caste. He has one acre and 17 guntas of land, on which he grows sugarcane. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “I earn around Rs 40,000-50,000 a year. But the floods cause damage of Rs 3-4 lakhs. We are also facing an issue with power cuts. Last month, we were only getting two hours of electricity daily. This is interrupting the irrigation process. I had to stop all farming activities in June, July, August and September because of the floods. The entire crop was damaged. I lost four sheep as well. The homes of dalits are located closer to the (Krishna) river, so our homes are the first to get flooded. We take whatever we can with us, and spend four months in another place. Some people take refuge in the ganji kendra (gruel centres).”


Appasaheb Kamble (right) and his nephew, Ramu Pujari (left), stand amid their sugarcane field.

Kamble is entitled to compensation for his losses. The taluk administration does a survey and prepares a list. Under a scheme by the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation Ltd, claimants receive an A/B/C designation based on the extent of damage to their properties. Persons placed in the A category are entitled to Rs 500,000 compensation because their house has been completely damaged; the B category means that the damage is between 25%-75%, and the claimants are entitled to Rs 300,000. The C category means that water has entered the home, but there is no major damage. Claimants in the C category are entitled to Rs 50,000 compensation. Kamble alleged that he was moved from A to B and then C after ‘re-surveys’. Finally, he received no compensation for his losses. 

Fight for Resettlement

Ramu Pujari, 34, has completed his law degree and is now waiting for the results. He is working as an activist to resettle his community outside of Saptasagar village. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “We have been demanding resettlement from the district administration in order to rid ourselves of this flooding issue. But they said that there is no available land. Even when they identified land, the farmers (who owned the land) were not willing to sell. So, we (dalit families) got together and began reaching out to land owners ourselves. We found a seller who was willing to part with 35 acres of land in Chikkatti village, a neighbouring village in Athani taluk. But the District Commissioner (DC) and the seller were not able to come to an agreement regarding the land valuation.” 

Ramu Pujari showed NewsClick the documents pertaining to the requests sent to the administration. He has letters addressed to the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, Belagavi district commissioner, Athani Tahsildar, Chikkodi assistant commissioner, Gram Panchayat, and Laxman Savadi, the Athani MLA candidate, and Mahesh Kumathalli, the Athani MLA. However, no one have reached out to help.


Ramu Pujari has attempted to document every struggle faced by his community since 2019.

Pujari lamented, “If we boycotted the elections, they would listen to us. Instead, our people are going to campaign for various candidates. We have not built any social organisation here. Some of us got together with our friends and also took the guidance of elders whom we trust. The administration has not provided compensation for crop losses suffered by Dalit farmers. There seems to be discrimination in the process. We demand that the entire village be relocated and new houses be constructed for everyone.” 

He said their demand was essential because there are long-standing problems in the area. Many dalit and Muslim families in the village are landless despite having all the documents like Aadhar card, ration card, and voter ID. “Some of them are squatting on temple land, and they are regularly asked to vacate the place by members of the temple committee. Secondly, the dalit community here don’t have a burial ground of their own. We have to cremate or perform burials on the banks of the Krishna river,” Pujari added.

Pujari’s brother, father and mother all work as daily wage labourers. He is married and has children as well. He pursued an LLB course in order to do social service for his community.

The first big flood in the region occurred in 2005. Pujari said that 366 dalit families in Saptasagar village were affected by the flooding. He did not have the figures for 2019, but he estimated that it must be much higher now. In his tiny office, he had several files pertaining to their issue. Letters to the administration, photos of the devastation, lists of families affected, etc. He has been documenting everything which might help in the relocation process.


The calm before the storm around the mighty Krishna River.

Life in Ganji Kendra

Mahadevi Ramappa, a middle-aged woman, works as a daily wager in Saptasagar village. Speaking to NewsClick, she recalled the time spent in the ganji kendra (gruel centre). It serves as a relief camp during the floods. Those seeking shelter here would get one mat and a mattress. Food packets are also delivered there. She said, “Last year, we lived in the ganji kendra for one month. Conditions there are not good. There are no bathrooms or toilets. There are no facilities for clean drinking water. Everyone, including women, is forced to defecate in the open near the river. If we have to take a bath, we go to the river, while others hold sarees and form an enclosure for privacy. Inside the ganji kendra, nobody waits in line for food. Everybody is rushing and grabbing what they can.”


Mahadevi Ramappa (second from left) and the women from her community are hoping for an end to their ongoing ordeal.

The women earn Rs 200 per day as daily wagers. If they work half the day, the earnings are Rs 120. But the payments do not arrive on time, they said. They are unhappy with all political parties as no one has solved their housing problem.

The village comes under Athani constituency, and the sitting MLA is Mahesh Kumathalli of the BJP. He originally contested with an Indian National Congress (INC) ticket and defeated Laxman Savadi (then BJP) by a margin of 2,331 votes. A year later, he resigned from the Assembly and contested the bypoll with a BJP ticket. This time, Savadi has switched to the INC and will take on Kumathalli again for the Athani seat. 

Most dalit families in the Saptasagar village do not own land titles. This adds to their problem as they do not have assets to sell. After 2005, the subsequent major devastation took place in 2019. Since then, there have been floods every monsoon. Every year, the inhabitants of the village lose several of their possessions, which get washed away or damaged in the flood. This year, the monsoon season will arrive one month after the state Assembly elections. The people might have to relive their nightmare - living inside a gruel centre for several months, without privacy, clean drinking water or a toilet.

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