The group made another visit to Kumta towards the end of the year. This was to follow-up on the earlier field visit and initiate conversations on holding meetings later in the course of our project.
Alphonsa and Preeta reached Kumta on a cold morning on 30th December. On the first day, we visited a sacred grove in Masur kurve – this was a small island on the river near the sea mouth with untouched, old mangroves and a small temple. This gave us a sense of the mangroves in the estuarine region, and also areas which are likely to be indirectly affected by large industrial projects.
We then went to the Aghanashini estuary – the local people were collecting bivalves from the mudflat in the estuary. We found it difficult to imagine a large port in this calm, serene land/seascape – which we later came to know was recommended by the Expert Appraisal Committee in its meeting in December.
In this visit, we focussed on mainly meeting officials and authorities, and civil society organizations working on environmental issues in the region. Due to our limitations of language, we could not communicate very well with local residents directly.
Our interaction with the officials was largely positive. Although we were not able to access all relevant information, for the most part, the people we met were open to a conversation and helpful. We visited the tehsildar’s office and the office of the Assistant Commissioner to follow up on the group’s previous visit and got some informal responses. The new year started with a very encouraging conversation with the Regional Forest Officer. He told us about the indeterminate nature and ownership of the intertidal areas. He also narrated experiences of working with the local communities in forestry and biodiversity interventions and its challenges. Next day, another group member Junaid joined us and we spent a day in Karwar to meet the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) Authority and the DCF of the Social Forestry Division. The CRZ official mentioned that the CRZ plan of Karnataka has been prepared, but not notified. The DCF of the Social Forestry Division is in charge of implementing the Biodiversity Act. He provided us details of the status of constitution of Biodiversity Management Committees and preparation of Biodiversity Registers. Some meetings, of course, did not go as planned. The planning and scheduling of meetings was a constant challenge with frequent changes. This, lacked with our limitation of language, resulted in some not very productive encounters.
We also met some local organizations and field offices. A meeting with Mr Rajeev Goankar of the Ashraya Foundation – a local NGO working on environmental and education issues – proved to be very interesting. The conversation led to us getting an in-depth understanding of the land and proposed land use. A long conversation with Dr V.N. Nayak also gave us an insight on the ecological and biodiversity characteristics of this very unique region. We also continued our conversation with the field offices of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and CPR-Namati – particularly in terms of conceptualizing the stakeholder meetings and community level engagements at later stages in our project.
In some sense, it helped to have spaced out our field visits – we got to experience the place in different seasons and witness the differences in seasonal livelihoods and lifestyles. Our conversations also built on our perceptions and ideas which we kept revising. By the end of this visit, we felt a close attachment to this place. It is a sobering thought that this place, and the lives of these people, could change quite drastically in the near future.