Andhra villages sinking due to Gandikota reservoir, villagers vow to fight 'state oppression'

The state has allegedly been releasing 1,000 to 1,500 cusecs of water every day, to force the villagers out with fear.
Andhra villages sinking due to Gandikota reservoir, villagers vow to fight 'state oppression'
Andhra villages sinking due to Gandikota reservoir, villagers vow to fight 'state oppression'
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By Rahul Maganti

The Chennai–Bombay railway line that once passed through the Korrapadu village of Kondapur Mandal in YSR Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, now lies vacant. After the state’s bifurcation, the railway line was shifted almost two kilometres down south. Adjacent to the railway line in Korrapadu is the Kadapa–Tadipathri state highway. A new highway is also being built as an alternative to this one.

All this, because Korrapadu and 21 other villages are expected to get submerged in the 26 TMC Gandikota Reservoir. Ironically, the government felt that it was necessary to construct an alternative highway and a railway line, but felt that it was not its responsibility to rehabilitate people in the affected villages.

Over the past two months, the state began releasing water from the reservoir without any warning, submerging six villages, with people still living there. Suddenly, the villagers found themselves homeless during the cold winter, with their livelihood stripped off them.

Gandikota reservoir was first conceived in 2006, by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) to provide irrigation water to the farmers of his constituency, Pulivendula.

After the Chandrababu Naidu led TDP government came to power in 2014, this issue got associated with inflated egos and irrational aspirations. YSR’s opponent in Pulivendula, VS Satish Reddy of the TDP has been growing a beard since the past two years and has vowed that he will remove his beard only after bringing irrigation water to Pulivendula.

Eager to punch the support base of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of YSR, in Pulivendula, and create a tough opponent for him in the form of Satish Reddy, Naidu has taken up this project with personal interest.

At the time of filing this report, 4.2 TMC of water was already released into the reservoir, with the project expected to be opened on January 11, 2017, by Naidu. By then, the reservoir would be filled with 5 TMC of water.

The plan is to give water to the Gandikota reservoir through the Owk reservoir and lift water using a pump-house into the Paidipalem reservoir before finally diverting water to Pulivendula through branch canals.

Chowtupalli lies on the last contour of 9.96 TMC Mylavaram reservoir for which land was acquired as early as 1977 by paying Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre. Constructed structures were paid a paltry compensation of Rs 50,000 per house.

(Scenes from earlier protests)

63-year-old Ramaswamy, who has been cultivating his 2 acre land since 1974 explains, “Since 1987-88 when the reservoir was opened, the Mylavaram waters have flooded the agricultural land surrounding this village only four times. The water never entered the village as a result of bunds erected by the villagers. Therefore, we stayed back and cultivated our fields as we had neither a place to go nor other means of livilhood.”

Polling booths were also set up for every election since then.

The government also invested money for development of infrastructure through health centres and schools, recognising the existence of these villagers.

From 2015, the villagers of Chowtupalli asserted their right to farm the land that they had been harvesting since 40 years, through representations, ‘jala deekshalu’, road bloackades and dharnas.

A special package of Rs 1 lakh was granted via GO 565 in September 2015. However, this was cancelled in the GO passed on January 4, 2017.

Many villagers and activists believe that this measure taken by the Andhra government is to show the villagers of Chowtupalli ‘their place’, as they have been at the forefront of the resistance.

Though these indicate clear legal and human right violations, the villagers are so fearful of state repression that they are not even willing to consider legal option as it might further invite the wrath of the state.  

In the third week of November 2016, the villagers of Chowtupalli, Gandluru, Bommepalli and a few other villages found water entering their villages. The state had allegedly been releasing 1,000 to 1,500 cusecs of water every day, to force the people to leave the villages out of fear.

Out of the roughly 9,000 families which are categorised as Project Displaced Families (PDFs), the government itself claims that 5,700 families are yet to avail the benefits, while 3,300 families have availed partial or full benefits.

However, most of these people claim that they are yet to receive the compensation. Chowtupalli lies in the first contour of Gandikota reservoir and it is therefore the most affected with the release of water from the reservoir. Though this village was promised six rehabilitation centres, not one of them is fully complete.

Jagadeeshwar Reddy, who is a farmer cultivating three acres of land in Chowtupalli, opted for a house site in Settivaripalle Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) colony, a few kilometres towards Kadapa on the Kadapa – Tadipathri highway.

“I have taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh from a local money lender. I spent Rs 6.5 lakh to construct the house but was given bills only for Rs 1.86 lakh till now, out of which 1.16 lakh is developmental charge for house sites, roads and drains. We don’t have drinking water facilities here. We don’t have opportunities to work. 95% of the houses don’t have latrines. We were promised two acres of land, but no one is even talking about it,” he says.

Nagarathnamma, a 70-year-old woman is inconsolable. “We have sold our cattle at cheaper prices as there is no space for grazing here. We lost our lands too. How should we live here? If this continues, in no time, we will become migrant labourers. 80% of the displaced people belong to the oppressed castes – Dalits and Backward castes, who are involved in the dairy industry, cattle rearing, fishing and agriculture. The government should give us some loans and help us buy new cattle and also show us grazing land for the same,” she says.

The state of other R&R colonies is much worse. Potladurthi R&R colony is supposed to house 160 families from Chowtupalli village. The contract for constructing the colony along with houses, roads and other amenities was given to Rithvik Projects Pvt. Ltd, owned by Suresh Naidu, who is the brother of TDP MP CM Ramesh.

Ramesh is also a businessman, and is said to be very close to Naidu. Incidentally, Potladurthi is also the hometown of Ramesh.

53-year-old Gopal paid Rs 1.86 lakh over five years ago to avail one of the 160 houses being built. He fights hard to control his tears while explaining the state of affairs. “Even today, as the waters submerged the village and people have no food and drinking water, the houses are half-complete. We are sleeping outside every night because our houses might fall anytime. The tempratures are falling every day as this is the peaks of winters and the government is least bothered about us. The people who are releasing the waters submerging our village and the contractors who are denying us our rightful rehabilitation by delaying the completion of R&R colonies are the same.”

(Villagers sleep outside every night)

Not one R&R colony is complete, and ironically, some villages like Korrapadu are yet to be allotted any rehabilitation centres. 

Adi Narayana Reddy, the present MLA of Jammalamadugu into whose constituency these areas fall, got elected on a YSRCP ticket, winning over former Minister and his arch-faction rival for decades, Rama Subba Reddy of the TDP.

However, Adi Narayana switched political loyalties by joining the TDP recently. This was opposed by Subba Reddy, but he had to give in after Naidu gave Narayana a green signal.

Since both of these leaders belong to the ruling TDP now and enjoy a significant clout, they are able to substantially dishearten the participants in the struggle.

The virtually non-existent YSRCP too backtracked after a fear of being labelled ‘anti-development’, especially since the reservoir will help the people of Pulivendula, being represented in the Legislative Assembly by YS Jagan.

This has left the people in disarray and there are few organisations which offer support to the villagers, like Human Rights Forum (HRF) and CPI(M).

Another reason for the state of affairs is that the faction politics and feudal relations are still intact in Rayalaseema which works against building a united people’s resistance.

Jayasree of HRF, who has been one of the leading faces of the struggle since June 2016, says, “It is hard to imagine building a militant peoples movement in Rayalaseema like the ones possible in Mallannasagar (Telangana) or Sompeta (Andhra) because of the faction loyalties and feudal relations still being intact here.”

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