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Displaced, Discriminated and Deprived : Govt.'submerged' in politics in the name of Mallanna project
Ponnala Lakshmaiah
Displaced, Discriminated and Deprived : Govt.'submerged' in politics in the name of Mallanna project
PHOTO : Land oustees of Komuravelli Mallanna Sagar project at the relay fast camp in Meda

As a part of the redesign of the Pranahita project, the displacement of 14 villages in order to increase the capacity of Mallanna Sagar at Tadkapally from 1.5 TMC to 50 TMC has posed a serious crisis sparking a statewide debate in Telangana. Based on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement law brought into effect by the UPA government in 2013, the victims of the new project development demand a fair compensation from the Telangana government for the loss of their lands owing to the Mallanna Sagar Project.

In this context, the people who give up their lands should be considered as those have sacrificed their livelihood for the betterment of their state and must be treated with dignity and respect and their problems should be addressed fairly, in an amicable way, because it is on the foundations of the sacrifice of their property and their displacement and subsequent homelessness that the schemes and projects are being built and the hopes and dreams of a prosperous state are being fulfilled.

Therefore, in order to compensate for and to satisfy them on a full scale, land acquisition must be done only with their consent. However, in the case of the Mallanna Sagar, the treatment meted out to the displaced people by this government is far from reasonable and is neither fair nor transparent.

Despite their support and assurances that they would never oppose the project development, the government regards the displaced and disadvantaged people with contempt, apathy and enmity, as a result of which they feel quite concerned, left out and dejected. 

These disadvantaged citizens of Telangana state lament as neither the ministers, nor the Chief Minister is ready to spare time to hear their ado which provokes them to remind the rulers that even they are a part of Telangana. While their lands are being submerged to provide water to other lands, they believe the policy makers should listen to them and understand their predicament that has arisen due to this deprivation and discrimination.

The negligence of the rulers even in the areas where they themselves tour regularly is causing an outrage from the farmers of that region. For them losing land which is the main source of livelihood to meet their ends is a big sacrifice in itself and they wonder why in spite of that the government is not ready to hear their ado. It is inhuman on the part of the government to behave grudgingly rather than being sympathetic to them.

The demands of the displaced people are not illusions or fancies and anyone in the world will concur on the fact that they are fair and reasonable. In this case, it is quite unsettling to learn that the government is being treacherous to their own people in the name of development. It may be true that the government is too busy to spare time to listen to their people’s problems, but such an apathetic administration can hardly provide for their livelihood nor give them hope for the future.

It is preposterous and hostile on the part of this government to resort to powerful rhetoric and to threaten the displaced people who are already living in fear and doubt. This reflects their skewed and distorted vision of “Bangaru Telangana”.

As a part of the Kaleswaram project, a proposal was made to build several large capacity reservoirs, of which Mallanna Sagarproject is the one with a gigantic storage of 50 TMC water. Clearly, nowhere in the world would you come across such a huge reservoir in lift irrigation schemes.  So far the major irrigation projects have all been built on streams and rivers owing to their abundant water supply and any loss due to evaporation and drying up are considered as part of the river stream and not as additional loss. However, building projects based on lift irrigation and aiming to store water only results in evaporation of that water and loss to the extent of 30% warrants and dictates less reservoir capacity in tune with the established & practiced norms all over the world – this is an economical and engineering principle that cannot be overlooked. Pumping of water into MallannaSagar will then require several thousand megawatts of electricity with recurring cost of several crores of rupees. In this context, it is clearly evident that the government is lacking foresight from the fact that it failed to make such vital technical calculations of the losses that will be incurred due to their actions.

It is not irrational or extravagant on the part of the displaced and homeless to ask for land or compensation, but is just and fair. Demanding compensation or an equivalent area of land does not amount to revolt, but a genuine demand or a democratic pressure as it is completely lawful for them to do so as per the 2013 land acquisition act – a historic act that was enacted by amending an age-old British law after much deliberation and out of sheer compassion for the displaced.  

To dishonor such a law and to release G.Os to their caprices is not derision of the world’s largest democracy alone, but also that of the sacrifices of the displaced. The role of having legislative institutions must be subject to discussion when the policy makers trample the existing law. When this is the way the legislative institutions are treated, one can easily fathom the plight of the displaced masses whose voice is never heard.

In the words of Brian Brett, “Farming is a profession of hope” and it is through soil that an Indian farmer’s hope sustains and the hunger of people satiates – soil is the sole reason that has kept the Telangana farmer undeterred even in the face of a series of droughts and losses – in this scenario, it is quite understandable for them to demand land for land and depriving them of their hope is to imperil their existence and the prices they have to pay are just irredeemable. 

The tyrannic approach of the government is not just outdated, but the benefits are rather short-lived and don’t serve any long-term purpose. It is imperative to call up discussions with the victims of displacement. However this government presents a grotesque picture – wielding its power and authority by resorting to forceful purchase of land which is not just ludicrous but also reflective of its arrogant and conceited ways.

In the past, under the government of the combined state, 6 lac acres of land was acquired for irrigation projects, yet there was not even one voice of discontentment or outrage, no sight of revolt and no one waged a legal battle. Rehabilitation and resettlement(R&R) colonies were built in required numbers. If only the present government settled issues in such amicable way and emulated the previous example, then it would have led to no protests.

TRS’ victory in elections was due to the high hopes it made to believe and promises it incorporated in its manifesto, one of which was to provide 3 acres of farming land to Dalits.

There are 6 lac Dalit families in the state as per estimates which would require 18 lac acres of land. However, the government has not been able to acquire even 7000 acres, just for 2000 families as against the 6 lac families. There are four reasons why the government is presenting a grim picture in the case of displaced people. Firstly, it cannot procure enough land even for its much-hyped 3-acres-per-family scheme to keep its election promise. Secondly, there is not enough land in the state for the government to offer to the displaced people. 

Thirdly, the amount of money it promises to the displaced is not commensurate with the market prices, so even if people are provided with money in compensation as specified in GO 123, they cannot buy equivalent area of land. Finally, the process of acquisition & compensation is against the LA Act of 2013.

After the formation of the Telangana state, the government is planning to acquire 2 lac 80 thousand acres of land for various irrigation projects, industries, power generation, open cast mining, roads and other development schemes. Any society thrives only on humanitarian foundations where compassion, assurance and sustenance play a pivotal role, but in the present situation, the foundations of a “Bangaru Telangana” are built at the cost of people’s sacrifice which is by and large used as a tool for politically motivated moves.

The patience, perseverance and allegiance of our people are not to be undermined or exploited, for Telangana is a land of revolutions and whenever its people are oppressed, they retort with resilience and bring down even the mightiest to their knees. 

History stands proof for the fact that land movements triggered many a revolution in the world and none of them ever failed. It is high time the government gave up its dictatorial ways and sympathized with the victims of displacement and offered them assurance rather than threatening them in implementation of projects. Building bridges with people is far wiser than building reservoirs at the cost of their hope and happiness.

Sri Ponnala Lakshmaiah

Former Andhra Pradesh Minister of Irrigation, Minister of Information Technology and Communications & former President of TPCC (Telengana Pradesh Congress Committee)

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