Vamsadhara
“Out of 600 farmers, at least 150 farmers have been given neither 'Rehabilitation and Resettlement' packages nor any assurance,” claims a villager.
File/By arrangement

"They are not even letting us collect the last crop...they want us to leave by November 21," says Gadela Surya Rao in despair. He is one of the farmers from the four mandals, affected by the Vamsadhara irrigation project in Srikakulam district.

Work on the Vamsadhara Phase II irrigation project in Hiramandalam area of Andhra's Srikakulam district, to store nearly 9 TMC of water, started in 2006. Around 6,000 acres of agricultural land, belonging to 10,000 farmers from 29 villages, were taken by the government for this purpose.

Gadela Surya Rao of Tulagav lost 5.5 acres of his land to the project. In the first phase, he had received Rs 1.29 lakhs towards resettlement and in June, he got Rs 4.47 lakhs as compensation.

"Out of 600 farmers, at least 150 farmers have been given neither 'Rehabilitation and Resettlement' packages nor any assurance, but they still want us to leave the village," he says.

He adds, "Even in the Rs 5 lakh resettlement amount, an amount of Rs 53,000 was deducted for several migrant labourers.”

Ch Simhachalam - a farmer from Barripeta of Heeramandalam, who lost his 2.5-acre land, has another story to tell. "Now they want us to leave the village, we are living in a Dhaba (a small house with a terrace). What can I do? I will erect steel slab sheds or a gudise (hut)."

"They have given us a place in Yellampet mandal, where there are no minimum necessities. They assured to construct our temples that will be lost in the process and there is no word on that. Then, how will the Rs 2 lakh given to a farmer for constructing a new house help?”

G Govinda Rao, of Garlapadu village, lost 5 acres of land. Likewise, 400 of his fellow farmers in the village also lost their land. Govinda Rao says, "They want to wash their hands of, by not giving the R&R package (Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013).

He adds, "The High court clearly directed to give us compensation as per the 2013 Act as the lands are still in our possession, but they are ignoring it."

The thought of leaving the village is disturbing for most farmers. Besides, the struggle for fair resettlement seems to be adding to their fear.

Govinda Rao says, "They are threatening with videos of our old protests, to book us in new cases and put us in jail."

It may be recalled that in January, a massive crowd of over 5,000 villagers from affected villages had staged a protest at the project site, even setting fire to vehicles belonging to the Soma Construction Company.

Chinnasankili is another affected village which is likely to face eviction by November 27 as per the village sarpanch. An affected farmer, R Mohan Rao, is concerned about the resettlement site. Chinnisankili has 150 families, who are dependent on agriculture. They could possibly be evicted to a resettlement colony in Masiki of Kotturu mandal.

TDP leader Mohan Rao says, "60 more families were not given resettlement amount and not even assured, but still they (officials-revenue and police) wants us to leave the village.”

Rao says, "The resettlement site is along a slope and won't attract heavy rainfall and residents could face problems in future."

Rao himself lost 12 acres of land and was given a package as per the old rate of Rs 1.29 lakh per acre.

Criminal cases filed against villagers

G Simhachalam, from Errapadu of Kotturu mandal, lost his 1.2-acre land and two houses in the village. He has been at the forefront, waging a battle against the government for fair rehabilitation.

G. Simahachalam, who is also the Secretary of Vamshadara Nirvasitula (affected) Union and went to jail for 63 days, says, "19 cases were filed against me on criminal charges."

He adds, "It is outrageous that around 102 farmers from the village are facing criminal cases. They have now approached the judiciary."

He is also apparently prohibited from entering the Heeramandalam mandal, where the project construction is going on in full swing.

KV Jagannatha Rao of Human Rights Forum and State committee member, criticised the authorities for not allowing the displaced people to get judicial help. According to activists, villagers apparently took the residential certificates from local revenue officials and went to High court, seeking relaxation from immediate displacement and fair compensation. However, the VRO was allegedly under "pressure" from top officials, and was made to say that the certificates were given forcibly.

In July, the High Court cleared several pending disputes on the matter, and issued orders in favour of the government. 

Following this, Joint Collector KVN Chakradhara Babu had said, “We cleared 95 per cent of R&R payments and 85 per cent works were completed. By issuing the GO No. 460, the state government released Rs 421.80 crore funds for R&R last year and we paid Rs 302.87 crore so far."