Is Karwar slowly being converted into a Restricted Area?

By Manjunath K. Shresthi

December 07, 2023


The scenic Uttara Kannada (UK) district in Karnataka is home to the INS Kadamba, which was previously known as Sea Bird project. The residents of 13 villages voluntarily gave up their land for the strategic national defence project. The lives of the villagers were torn apart and the fishermen lost precious fishing rights, as they could not venture into the sea near the upcoming project. The Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R &R) measures undertaken were inadequate and the people are even today trying to come to terms with reality. The buying power and standard of life of the people before they vacated their land was higher and has seen a downslide later on. 

The fishermen’s livelihood depends on the sea, and he can sustain his family with the income earned from it. But their lives have been cursed ever since the naval project came to Karwar, and even now they continue to face challenges and disruption in their daily lives even after losing everything.  

Baithkol fishing village comprises of Bhandari, Harikantra and Halakki Vokkkaligas along with members of the Christian community, and they make up a total population of about 3000 people. A protest was held by the Baithkol Yuvakara Mandali of 50 fishermen and the locals of the village against the road project to one of the beaches. The locals argue that during monsoons they will face landslides and lead to loss of lives and property. 

The road clearing activity is being carried out by huge earth moving equipments. The village elders  and the youth asked the naval authorities to stop work, after a meeting was held by them. The apprehension of the locals is that, restrictions will be imposed by the navy around the quarters and the club in the upcoming proposed construction area once the proposed road is completed. The fishermen are dependent on this area for their livelihood. The naval officials are justifying the work. It is reliably learnt that, and highly doubtful whether they have the required work order and permission to undertake the work? But the police claim that all their papers are in order. Despite repeated requests to show the relevant documents for the said work, the naval officers were reluctant to show them. 

During the 1980s, when the land was getting acquired, people from the villages did not have money even for a square meal, and hence could not appeal during the acquisition of land by the port authority’. The port authorities later sold the land acquired from the poor villagers and fishermen for a pittance, to the Navy for Rs. 27 crores, which is illegal. Is it legal to divert the land and sell it for other than the intended purpose?

At the Baithkol beach, a rest and recreational club has been built for the naval staff, and they can enter directly. An Officers bungalow and living quarters built on land evicting the poor fishermen. The development work is being carried out under the guise of defence work. 

In October 2009, 19 people lost their lives in Kadwad village because of a massive landslide. The land has been declared as Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area (CVCA) by the CRZ notification of 2011 and 2019 respectively. The Indian Institute of Science (IISC) made a report and clearly mentioned that the coastal forests of Karwar, are prone to landslides and have been witnessed in the past. The Uttara Kannada (UK) district and Karwar area, has crossed the ecologically integrated carrying capacity and cannot support further development and can cause irreversible damage. 

The road in question can be made, if absolutely necessary for defence purposes. The locals doubt if the road is required for the defence project, as a guest house has been built for the leisure activities of the naval officers. The local people and fishermen have every right to know and also be told the reasons for the construction of the road to the beach. 

The actual naval defence infrastructure at Binaga village, is located at a distance of four (04) kms away from Baithkol village. The reasons are difficult to understand for the construction of the road four (04) kms away from the base by destroying the ecological sensitive area. The hills are home to rich fauna and leopards are spotted often. 

For strategic and national defence projects the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules are not applicable (NA).  But the naval authorities need to answer whether construction of the road is for strategic purposes? But the other works being done for non-defence purposes cannot become strategic. Why do the naval authorities require a beach to build a club? 

The fishermen fishing rights have been snatched away and are treated as sub-human by the naval authorities. The locals also mentioned that they have been subject to severe beatings many a times. And in most of the cases, such high-handedness goes unreported and unacknowledged. 

*During British rule, the Hembele (Ladies beach) was off limits to the Indians. Post Independence, the area was open to all. But the area was transferred by the port authorities to the Navy in year 2000 without the public being informed.  The place is off limits to the locals currently. 

*Environmental related violations are filed with the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

(The above story told by an affected and distressed fisherman from Baithkol village, Karwar).

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