Darkness of Development: How farmers are bearing the brunt of AP Vamsadhara project

The resettlement colony allotted by the government has none of the basic necessities like clean drinking water, electricity or toilets.
Darkness of Development: How farmers are bearing the brunt of AP Vamsadhara project
Darkness of Development: How farmers are bearing the brunt of AP Vamsadhara project
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“On New Year’s Eve, as the world stepped forth with renewed hopes, we woke up to lose all hope,” laments K Damayanti, a Dalit manual labourer and mother to two young children, belonging to the Relli community of Hiramandalam village at Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh.

She is living in a makeshift home, along with about 70 other Project Displaced Families (PDFs) in the resettlement colony behind the Hiramandalam bus stop, allotted by the government, and without any of the basic necessities like clean drinking water, electricity or toilets.

The colony is a dust bowl surrounded by thick bushes and sewage swamps. “We keep sighting snakes almost every night. Ours and more importantly the lives of our little children are in grave danger,” she says. 

This relatively smaller colony is just one of three others. The others located in Shyamalapuram, Kotthuru and Pedda Sankili have about 400 families living in each, where living conditions are similarly bad.

All these families are suffering because they have been displaced due to the BRR Vamsadhara irrigation project of the Andhra government.

Red Chilli, belonging to V Ratnamma, drying under the sun amongst the ruins. PC: Pavan Korada

Delayed project, unjust takeover

As part of the BRR Vamsadhara project phase II, stage II, it was planned to construct a reservoir near Hiramandalam to store and use the waters from the Vamsadhara river to irrigate 2,10,000 acres along with an additional ayacut of 45,000 acres. The administrative sanction (as per Go Ms No 127) for this work was issued by the Irrigation and CAD department in 2005. The government also notified that 20 villages would be fully submerged and 14 villages partially submerged, all belonging to the three mandals of Hiramandalam, LN Peta and Kotthuru. Notifications were issued and awards were passed in the following years of 2007 and 2008. 

As per the award, a compensation of Rs. 1,20,000 and Rs. 88,000 per acre was paid for wetlands and drylands respectively to the PDFs. Moreover, the government, at that point, had promised the PDFs that Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of 2005 (as provided in Go Ms No 68) will be implemented. This entitled the PDFs to house sites, land in lieu of several other benefits. 

Text in red written on the wall: 'This house did not receive compensation.' (Duggupuram) PC: Pavan Korada

Ever since the passing of awards and receipt of compensation under the Land Acquisition Act 1894, no construction activity started as the Government of Odisha had reservations regarding the project. It strongly objected to the construction of the barrage as well as the side weir on the grounds that a few villages would be submerged on its side and approached the Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, the Vamsadhara Water Disputes Tribunal in December 2017 gave an order favouring AP. It allowed AP to utilise 8 TMC of water from Vamsadhara with the construction of a side weir — which would draw excess water during floods and divert the water to Hiramandalam reservoir — near Batthili, Bhamani mandal. 

Over these last nine years, none of the state authorities interfered with the possession of the lands and the farmers have been peacefully cultivating their lands. “We availed farm loans from banks and even got farm loan waivers too from the government,” says G Mohan Rao, a farmer from Duggupuram village. 

A makeshift home of M. Vijayamma, belonging to the Schedule Caste Konda Dora community, in the resettlement colony near Peddha Sankili. PC: Pavan Korada

“But in June 2017, officials from the revenue department asked us to vacate. At that time, some educated farmers in the villages questioned the officials and refused to vacate their lands and homes complaining that they were neither rehabilitated nor resettled, as per Go 68. Moreover, they demanded and started agitating for the implementation of 2013 Land Act,” he added.

Unfair compensation

The farmers have been seeking the implementation of the new Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 since possession of the lands was not taken by the government. 

Speaking to TNM, K Vasudha Nagaraj, an advocate representing the PDFs, says, “The farmers have been protesting every day and appealing to the government to consider their plea to implement the Act. But the government has been stubbornly saying that it cannot pay compensation as per the new law as the land acquisition was completed way before 2013.”

As per Section 24(2) of the Act, “In case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, where an Award under the said section 11 has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of this Act but the physical possession of the land has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid, the said proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed.”

“Clearly, possession has not been taken until now by the government after the Awards were passed and compensation amounts were paid to the farmers in the year 2008. It is more than nine years since the land acquisition was made. The farmers of these 20 villages continued to be in possession of their lands and houses which thereby attract the provisions of Section 24(2) by dint of which the earlier Awards have lapsed. In order to bypass the stringent provisions of Act 30 of 2013, the government officials resorted to brute power and displaced the farmers in occupation of the lands and houses in these villages”, Vasudha added.

Apathy at resettlement camps

As the PDFs struggle to reorient their lives, daily issues of corruption and mismanagement are making things worse. The PDFs colony located near Pedda Sankili, where many Scheduled Tribe Konda Dora families are living in temporary tents, is covered with a thick blanket of darkness every night – allegedly because they cannot bribe the local electricity officials and electricians. 

This was found in the ruins at Duggupuram. PC: Suraj

“The government is supposed to give free electricity to all ST households but that is not being implemented. Moreover, we are forced to pay bribes to the tune of Rs 2,000-4,000 to get them to fix meters. Being a daily wage labourer, who is now without any work, how can I pay this kind of money?” asks Mojuru Vijayalakshmi from the Koda Dora community. 

People who have sacrificed so much for a water project themselves have very poor access to water, ration and health services.

“There is only one boring pump for the entire colony with roughly 70 households. Moreover, it is located at a far corner of the colony near the bushes. Why is it that somebody else benefits from our sacrifices while we don’t even get water to drink?” asks K Seethamma, living with her five young children in the new colony behind the Hiramanadalam bus stop.

The closest ration depot located in Soli (another small colony) is more than an hour’s journey from our colony. 

“To go to the closest hospital, we have to travel either to Kothuru or all the way to Hiramandalam. Even the most crucial ration depot is very far away. Already we have lost whatever little work we used to get back home in the village, but without any work and money now, we are also overburdened with such cruel negligence. What are we to do?” ask B Jayalakshmi and D Savitri, both studying intermediate second year, belonging to the Konda Dora community. 

Now, these are the problems faced by those families who have been given 2-5 cents of land in the resettled colonies. But back in the razed villages, one can see a few families still living amongst the concrete rubble. “We haven’t been given land anywhere. The compensation they gave us 10 years ago is too little to buy land in the open market now. So, we have nowhere else to go but to live here,” says V Rathnamma, from Duggupuram village.

Walking through the ruins of Duggupuram, K Jagannadha Rao, Vice President of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) said, “Such development is very dangerous. It is not just enough to light the candle of development and revel in its brightness. We should look, more importantly, at the long shadow cast by that light where many such families and their lives are being forced into darkness.”

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