Kalmane Kaamegowda, a shepherd from Mandya, Karnataka, has dug 16 ponds for wild animals and livestock in the last 40 years. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi for Mongabay.

Officials call it a genuine work of environment protection

Deputy Commissioner of Mandya, Venkatesh M.V. says that Kaamegowda’s work is commendable and his administration is determined to encourage such individual initiatives towards environment protection. He says that from the spot inspections he has done around the ponds, he has realised that Kaamegowda’s work is scientific in both its nature and execution. “He has dug these ponds at the base of the hill so the rainwater that runs down can be collected in them. The ponds are also interlinked so no water goes waste,” he says.

It is, however, clear that the name and fame have not changed much of Kaamegowda’s life. He eats and sleeps with his sheep in a tiny shack which is still under construction. He’s nursing a “non-healing ulcer” (according to the medical reports), under his left knee which, from his description, is getting worse. It was reported in the newspaper recently that he was tested positive for COVID-19 which he denies. “Some of the villagers are jealous of my fame and they wanted to malign me,” he says.

This unexpected rise to fame has brought Kaamegowda a handful of detractors in his village. Recently, 70 villagers petitioned the district commissioner, alleging Kaamegowda did not dig any of these ponds and that he only dug some pits. They believe that what Kaamegowda has been doing out of self-interest has been falsely trumpeted as selfless work for the environment by a section of the media.

One of the ponds dug by Kaamegowda on the hillock near Dasanadoddi village. Photo by Abhishek N. Chinnappa.
One of the ponds dug by Kaamegowda on the hillock near Dasanadoddi village. Photo by Abhishek N. Chinnappa.

One of the villagers, Shashikumar, feels that they are pits and not ponds since a pond needs to have certain features like a retaining wall that is missing in them. He alleges, “There used to be a pond from ancient times here which used to be full. But after this man dug up pits here and there, water has stopped flowing into it. It has completely dried up now.” Shashikumar says that Kaamegowda did most of the work after he won the Rajyotsava award and has dug ponds where it can easily be shown off to people.

They also allege that Kaamegowda is treating the ponds and the hill as his own property and creating a nuisance for others by not letting anyone use the ponds or walk there.

Kaamegowda, however, counters the allegation, saying that he would object to people washing their clothes in the ponds or using the water for anything other than drinking or for the livestock since he dug them up for wild animals and birds and he wouldn’t let anyone contaminate them. “There is water in the villages for villagers and their livestock. Where will the wild animals and birds go for water? I have dug up these ponds for them and not humans,” he says. He also believes that the park and the banyan grove should not be visited by people, which is “trespassing”, to which the villagers take strong objection.

The Mandya DC, however, dismisses this dispute as a way of life in most villages. “These are perceptional differences. Most villagers like him and appreciate his work but there is some misunderstanding which we are trying to solve,” he says. Throwing his weight behind Kaamegowda, the DC says he believes Kaamegowda’s work is genuine. As a token of appreciation, his administration is considering building a better house for the Good Samaritan. He has also recommended to the government for a job for one of his family members.

Meanwhile, Kaamegowda continues to drag his injured leg to the hillock everyday to tend to his plants and to oversee the work on his 17th pond.

 


Illustration by Bengaluru-based Krishna Bala Shenoi, who spends his days making things. His artwork, spanning a variety of styles, has accompanied children’s literature in books produced by esteemed publishing houses.


 

Article published by Aditi
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