Features
Bonacaud – The Forsaken Township
While the city and its adjoining areas are trying hard to deal with problems of over growth and its adverse impact on the environment, Bonacaud presents the ultimate picture of contrast | By Mukesh Venu
On Dec 20, 2011

 

When India agreed to the GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade) terms in the year 1994, it was supposed to elevate the nation from poverty by allowing imports to be made at a subsidised price. But the people who signed the deal back then overlooked certain sections of the economy, which thrived on export, such as the tea industry. The GATT deal literally spelt doom for the tea industry as tea began to arrive from other countries at a price lower than the rate at which it was produced here. Since then, it has been a continuous struggle for survival, for those employed in tea estates in the country.

 

 

 

Bonacaud is a dying… no dead… or even better a ghost town, situated 60 kilometers from the state capital, atop the peaks of the Western Ghats. It used to be a bustling township centered around 2000 acres of tea plantation, which produced around 25,000 kilograms of tea on a daily basis. More than 2000 families were employed in this tea estate with another 30 as staff members of the tea factory. This was Bonacaud before 1995. A decade and a half later, the remnants of this once alive place now lies fit to depict the lonely and desolate township in a horror film. The age-old roads are devoid of any movement and the few colonies that are spread around the hills are barely occupied. Those who still remain are all aged, dull and silent. You can't even find a store selling the most basic of items such as toiletries, clothes or  food items. Bonacaud Township exists almost wholly cut off from the rest of the world.

 

 

“There is nothing here, just a bunch of us old people awaiting the gratuity which was promised to us years before,” says Maria Kutty, the Panchayath Member of Bonacaud, sitting in front of here dilapidated house “All the young men have left this place to towns like Vithura and Nedumangad in search of better prospects. We live here without electricity, water or even toilets.”

Thirumala Koluthu is a seventy year old Tamil - Malayali who still remembers how the town used to be, before 1995.

 

 

“This place used to be very vibrant and alive. People got on happily with their lives. We got paid everyday and were given bonus on special occasions like Onam. Everything was in plenty and we never ran short of anything. That was till 1995, when the GATT deal was signed. After that we had to go through 36 months continuously without any payment. The owner of the tea estate disappeared after incurring heavy losses and having placed the entire estate as security for a bank loan accounted in crores. The bank has since sealed the tea factory and we now live here abandoned and forgotten by the rest of the world.”

 

 

The owner is Mahavir, a North Indian businessman. After GATT was implemented, he had supposedly incurred heavy losses in the business. Although the purpose still remains unclear, the owner then had availed a huge amount from the bank with the 2,000-acre estate as security. The loan was never repaid and the bank took over the estate and shut the tea factory down. No one has seen Mahavir since.

 

 

“But he is still lurking somewhere behind the screens and pulling strings. The bank has no interest in running the tea estate and hence the tea plantation now lies overgrown with shrubs and infested with all kinds of worms and insects. Even if someone is willing to come forward to run the estate, the person is required to pay a fixed amount as commission to the owner. With the meager amount that could be produced from the small area still maintained by us for growing tea, he is sure to incur only a loss. So no one is interested in running this tea estate. The government has never shown an interest anytime. And we are left to bear the brunt.”

 

Currently, a certain individual from Vithura is handling the estate. The employees get paid the revised amount of Rs. 154 per day for plucking 21 kilo of tealeaves. There are now less than 300 families living here and most of them are aged. Clearing the shrubs itself is a mammoth task, considering their dwindling number and health. For every kilo less than the specified limit, Rs. 5 is deducted from their allocated salary. For every kilo that's more, they are paid an additional 50 paise.

 

 

The Speaker of the current Legislative Assembly hails from this place. Maria Kutty has a story to tell about him.

“When he was in the Opposition, there was a death here which was actually caused by kidney failure. The present speaker, along with many other prominent politicians, visited Bonacaud at that time and rewrote the death as death due to hunger and sanctioned us free rations of 20 kilo rice every month.  The ‘hunger’ death and the implementation of free rations, gave them the necessary mileage to win the next elections. Now he is the Speaker. The free ration has stopped and  we are given 10 kilograms of rice at Rs. 2 per kilo every month. Even that gets reduced to eight kilos sometimes and the rest is met in the form of wheat. Once a month, a SupplyCo vehicle arrives here from which we buy other essentialities.”

 

 

Other than the SupplyCo bus, there are two KSRTC bus services, one in the morning and one in the evening, which is the only connection that Bonacaud has with the outer world. There is no hospital in the township; a government dispensary that used to function here now resembles an ancient monument that is falling apart. The same goes for the tea factory. There is a UP school in which thirteen children study under the guidance of one teacher who also happens to be the head master of the school; his name is S Hemachandran. A detailed report on this school, the children and the head master would be given in the 'Unsung Hero' segment of Yentha. But, to have an idea of what to expect, take a look at this poem written by one of the children about his school in his school magazine...

 


A stroll through the township even in broad daylight would send a chill through your bones. The abandoned tea factory, the more dead than alive elders who stare at you from a distance, the ancient road, the dilapidated houses ready to be blown away in the next storm - everything presents a sight which could be described as nothing but ghostly. A description detailing  this forsaken township of Bonacaud could go on for pages and pages, but a feature report carries a word limit. So, this set of concluding words from Maria Kutty would help give a better picture of what has been tried to convey the entire time.

 

 

 

“The nights are dark and silent here in Bonacaud. The major threat comes from wild animals – boars, buffaloes, elephants, and bears. Earlier they used to avoid us, they were afraid to come anywhere near human settlements. But not any more; they come to our courtyards and destroy the little bit of farming we do to procure vegetables. They come in freely, unafraid and unhindered. Seems they have realized our condition and no longer see any difference between them and us.”

 

Photos: Bonacaud

 
 
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Nice Place !! It looks like a mini Munnar. Where exactly is this place located ?
Prash, on Jan 10, 2012 03:52:51 PM
 
 
Take the first right after Vithura KSRTC bus stand. A ride of around 20 kilometers will take you to Bonacaud.
Team Yentha, on Jan 10, 2012 10:45:47 PM
 
 
Please post the KSRTC bus timings from Trivandrum/vithura ..
Krishnak, on Oct 30, 2013 11:38:09 AM
 
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