COIMBATORE: Prolonged ban on coracle services in Hogenakkal due to heavy flooding has left oarsmen worried.
There are more than 415 oarsmen, whose only source of livelihood is to operate coracles for tourists. They have been staying off work for more than a month since inflow of water into Tamil Nadu from Karnataka peaked triggering flooding along the river course.
In fact, tourist arrivals began to gather momentum after two years of lull due to Covid. “However, continuous floods and tourist ban have once again rendered us jobless, that too for so many days. We don’t have any other source of income as we knew no other job. Our wait to resume work grows endless with uncertainty as water flow continues to be high. It has been more than 45 days since we ventured into the waters. Even before these long days of ban, the coracle operations were suspended on and off as water arrivals remained high quite frequently, this year,” said M Kempuraj, president of Anna Coracle Operators Welfare Association in Hogenakkal.
Having stayed out of work for so many days, the oarsmen have now been demanding compensation from the government. “Just like how the fishermen are paid with financial aid during the fishing ban, we should also be compensated on no job days, when coracle operations get suspended. It has been our long time unfulfilled demand. Most of us have dried up all our savings and it gets difficult to meet even our essential expenses,” he added
For a coracle ride in the gushing waters, the government fixed charge is Rs 750 for four persons. Of this, Rs 600 is for oarsmen and remaining Rs 150 goes to the administration. They operate on a turn basis with every coracle operator getting an opportunity on week days and up to two rides during weekends, when tourist arrivals surge. It is also a major revenue loss to the government during the ban period.
Traditionally, coracle services were carried out on three routes depending on the flow of water. “Coracle operations were carried out safely in the backwaters even if the water flow goes up above one lakh cusecs. However, tight regulations were imposed after a family of six tourists from Chennai drowned when a coracle capsized in August 2015,” said S Durairaj, another coracle operator.
At present, the inflow at Hogenakkal hovers around 85,000 cusecs on Sunday, 8 am. It has reduced significantly from 1.45 lakh cusecs on 10 August 10 and 1.20 lakh cusecs on August 12 and down further now. However, flooding continues in Cauvery.
Lift ban on tourists to save other services, urge people
It’s not just oarsmen, who were hit by the tourists and coracle rides ban, but more than 3,500 people from a dozen settlements in Hogenakkal, who eke out a living by doing other ancillary jobs in the tourist destination were also left in the lurch.
Most of them make a living by selling wares, perform massage services and sell fish fries. Women offer cooking services to tourists visiting the falls. Even if coracle operations remain suspended due to safety reasons, people demand that tourist be allowed till ‘madam’ check post.
“From there, the tourists can watch the splendid flow of water in Cauvery River. There is no risk involved in it and the move may attract more tourists to the spot. Therefore, it would help those who have set up shops to sell snacks, food and fish fry vendors to do some business,” M Kempuraj, president of Anna Coracle Operators Welfare Association in Hogenakkal.
These families were all early settlers from Salem before carving out of Dharmapuri district, when the works on Mettur reservoir commenced in 1924. For all these years, they settled down in Oottamalai, Ranipettai, Chatiram, Scout Camp, Indira Nagar Colony, Erikaadu, Naadar Street and Iyappan Kovil Street.
There are around 350 men masseurs, 300 women cooks and 200 shops in the Hogenakkal area.
“I used to cook home-made fish curry meals for tourists visiting the Hogenakkal falls. I charge depending on the menu and number of people and earn up to Rs 1,000 per day during rush weekends. On weekdays, I may get orders only on some days. But, the long ban on tourists has left us high and dry without any income,” said S Manjuthai from Indira Nagar.
Currently, with fishing being the only source of revenue to stay afloat, the villagers also lamented that they weren’t getting a good catch in the flooded waters of River Cauvery.
There are around 350 men masseurs, 300 women cooks and 200 shops in the Hogenakkal area and their livelihood can be ensured at least