Thursday, August 16, 2007

An update on the Mysore commune initiative

An earlier post in Jan. on Prem Subramaniam’s ongoing efforts to develop a river bank commune near Mysore evoked following enquiries:

“…yearning for a settlement as described by you. Please count us in it and any updates on this would be highly appreciated”, wrote a Bangalore-based couple.

“…a great move. can you keep us updated on the legal transaction nuances.”

Prem, “still waiting to live my dream”, is hopeful of relocating himself in his dream setting, near Srirangapatnam, by the end of next year. Here is an update he e-mailed:

The current status on my plans to relocate to a non-urban environment in the vicinity of Mysore is that the final step in the alienation of the land is still awaited. The site comes under Mandya. Agricultural Land in Karnataka cannot be bought by anyone who does not already own agricultural land elsewhere and whose gross family income from non-agricultural sources exceeds Rs 2 lakhs a year.

People circumvent this rule. I did not want to take this risk. So an application has to be made to convert the land for residential use. This process was supposed to take about 4 months. It takes longer, as inevitably all the documents required take time to collate. The documents have to be forwarded in a lengthy process and final sanction wrests with the DC. The earlier DC fell ill and his replacement has not looked at documents relating to alienation of our site for over 2 months.So there has been no progress for over 4 months now.

Meanwhile I have finalised designs for built-up space with help from Bangalore based Chitra Vishwanath, a staunch advocate of environment-friendly buildings. There are many practitioners in Karnataka, Kerala,Pondicherry,Delhi and Mysore too, but the challenge is to have a seamless extension with the contractor chosen to execute the work. Through the offices of Chitra Vishwanath I have identified someone in Mysore.

I also have had an engineering company from Bangalore to do a report on the feasibility of setting up a micro-hydel, but since we are on the River Kaveri , I am not sure if it will be easy to obtain permissions, even though this exercise could create an alternate source of power for the village community.

I have used the time that has lapsed to visit organic farms in Karnataka, tourist attractions and do background work to establish contact with people with the kind of skill sets that I feel I will need to rely on. I have travelled by train,car,local buses and this has helped overcome the frustration of not being able to move on my project.

I have looked at an interesting model of a retirement community in Gujerat where some NRIs have taken 12 acres of land about 80 km from Ahmedabad,40 km from Baroda, and 4 km from Anand.They are in the process of building 100 one-bedroom cottages supported by about 20000 sq ft of common facilities.They accept only those over 60 and are offering the cottages on lease for 10 years with a reasonable deposit and a monthly outflow towards meals,maintnenance,electricity etc.

I am told that a similar variation is on offer by Classic who have the Kudumbam project near Chennai. There are variations to the theme in Coimbatore too. In Uttaranchal Anil Nayyar,formerly of Airtel, is setting up a residential Knowledge centre.

My own sentiment is not to relegate older people to a commune. It is meant to be a place for those who do not need to be on a 9 to 5 regime. So could include those in part-time jobs, those who can work out of home, those who may need to go to an office once in while and not on a daily basis. It should be an place which can provide a nourishing environment to at least three generations of people.Where grandchildren could come and spend time with their grandparents if the parents do not have time.Where the skills of the elders is available for a variety of purposes. I see value in offering an alternate tourism experience.

In the ideal world I would like to see about 4 to 5 sites of the kind I have envisaged within a 100 km radius and perhaps have these replicated in other regions of Karnataka.

The learning experience from attempting to convert agricultural land is that it maybe simpler to buy plantation land in Coorg, Chikmagalur or similar or look for similar terrain in Tamil Nadu. However these will be a little remoter and may not suit all.

There has been expressions of interest on what I am attempting to do and I have therefore initiated dialogue with someone in Coorg to acquire a 3 acre site about 8 km from kushalnagar.It is just 0.5 km from the Kaveri and amidst coffee plantations. Close to Bylakuppe,Dubare Elelphant Camp. If this works out I can include those interested in the development of this site for creating a commune.

Alternatively, if there are individuals with sites which are suitable, we can think of collaborating. I have to emphasize that I am not driven by commercial interests as much as making my concept work and share the knowledge so that an alternate quality of life is available for those seeking it. Underlying the work is the 4 cardinal principles of consumer satisfaction, commercial viability, benefit to local economy and engagement of local communities ,and long term sustainability.

Still waiting to live my dream!

Related posts: Dreams of a commune on the Cauvery bank
More on the Mysore commune initiative

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