While no monetary compensation has been given to residents, even those who accepted the rehabilitation offer by the government, continue to be in dire straits.

Evicted for DRDO project Telangana residents continue to seek compensation years laterAll images: Rajesh Serupally
news Ground Report Friday, October 26, 2018 - 18:39

25-year-old Sangeetha, a mother of two children, wakes up every morning before sunrise. She does so, because she has to take advantage of the darkness and indulge in open defecation in the forest behind her house. The fate of all women living in a Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) site at Kistaipally is the same.

Sangeetha is one among many in the R&R site who hail from the villages of Dacharam and Darugulla in Telangana’s Medak district. She like many others continue to struggle for their everyday survival since they were evicted for the purpose of a Defence project. Residents say that they sacrificed their land in the larger interest of the nation, but they have got nothing in return.  

Background

In 1962, then Government of Andhra Pradesh acquired approximately 6,000 acres in Jinnaram and Gumadidala Mandals which included both government and private land, to establish an Indian Air Force Academy.

The Dundigal Air Force Academy fenced only 4,500 acres for its full operations and the remaining land was left out without any fence or protection, where residents of villages like Dacharam and Darugulla were residing peacefully.

Everything was fine till 2006, when the Ministry of Defense (MoD) transferred the remaining 1492.16 acres from the existing Air force Academy to the Research Center Imarat (RCI), a laboratory under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), for the ORANGE (Open Test Range Facility for radar Cross Section Antenna Measurement) project.

In 2010, the next generation of farmers began protesting against the proposal and a fresh round of negotiations began. From then, there were multiple rounds of discussions held between all the parties; the Ministry of Defense, revenue officials, district magistrate, local public representatives, survey teams and residents themselves.

After all the discussion and consultation, in March 2012, the Government of India agreed to issue Rs 14.40 crore towards payment as compensation to the affected families under the Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) package. There are 275 families in Dacharam and 50 families in Darugulla village who were affected under this project.

Residents said that each family was entitled to get Rs 1,52,500 under the R&R policy in addition to 300 sq. yards of land at an R&R colony for 304 families with the modern infrastructure.

The Revenue Department had been maintaining since 2010 that 53.25 acres of land was not acquired by the MoD in 1962. In a report filed in March 2014 (a copy of which is with TNM), the Tahsildar of Jinnaram Mandal told the Medak District Collector that 33.10 acres in Dacharam, 16.32 acres in Darugulla and 3.23 acres in Anantharam village had not been acquired.

Despite all this, in the early hours of November 14, 2015, residents of Dacharam and Darugulla alleged that revenue and police officials forcefully evicted them from their homes.  Before they could wake up and realise what was happening, their houses were destroyed and they were on the road with no idea where to go, residents alleged. The land was also soon fenced.

The dualism of the judiciary

In 2014, four residents of Dacharam approached the Hyderabad High Court but in 2015, the court dismissed all claims of the petitioners and upheld the argument of Defence authorities, stating that due compensation was paid in the 1960s itself. Furthermore, the High Court also ordered the Rs 7.5 crore, which the MoD had deposited in the District Collector’s account to be returned. The amount was to be used by the Revenue Department to build and acquire a separate R&R site for the people who had been evicted.

Residents question why the MoD and local authorities claimed that the lands remained unacquired through the years during joint meetings and surveys only to say the exact opposite in court, completely changing their stance.

However, in 2015, when a group of 53 villagers from Darugulla village approached the High Court on a similar issue, the court ordered that status quo be maintained for Darugulla village, allowing residents to stay on.

The rehabilitation question

Dacharam village, however, has a different composition with different castes and different classes. While the people who were well-off could move to alternative houses or stay with their relatives, many residents, due to their economic and social standing, were forced to move to villages nearby.

While no monetary compensation has been given to residents, those who accepted the rehabilitation offer by the government, continue to be in dire straits. 300 sq yards of land was allotted at an R&R site in Kistaipally village and the people who moved initially to the rehabilitation site mainly belong to the Dalit community. When they moved in 2016, they neither had electricity, water, nor housing.

When some residents went to the bank with the documents of their 300 sq yards land for a loan, they realised after their loans got rejected that they were given ‘patta’ (assigned) lands and not registered land.

Mahender Reddy from Dacharam says, “We feel deceived by this patta land. This doesn’t serve the purpose. We were vulnerable when we left our village and we still feel vulnerable, as the assigned lands can be taken back by the government at any given point. We can’t even get the loans for any purpose.”

28-year-old Shivampetta Veerayya, a father of two, hails from the Madiga community. He says, “When we first reached this R&R site, there were only a few of us, less than ten families, all belonging to Dalit community. There was nothing here. We had to spend extra money to remove stones and level the surface. We had very little money even to live. Under these circumstances, we were left with no other choice and somehow brought these tin sheets and built these temporary structures where we have been living since then.”

Presently, around 80 families have shifted here. Though it continues to be predominantly members of the Dalit community, people from the economically weaker BC community have also joined them. Access to water is still an issue even after two years and many draw their water from a nearby tubewell and drinking water from a nearby water purification bed.

60-year-old Kamari Bhagyamma who got 300 sq yards of land under the R&R package, feels that she has been cheated by local politicians.

“They have sanctioned land to people who left the village decades ago and who were not eligible, but they have not given land to my son, who was born and lives in Dacharam village,” she says.

Bhagyamma says that all her pleas to public representatives and officials went in vain.

60-year-old Kamari Bagyamma in front of her tiny shop at R&R site

People residing in this R&R site say that while they have fewer problems than before, it is evident that many problems have been normalized.

Mahender Reddy who was a farmer in Dacharam village says, “We have sacrificed our existence and our land for national interest. We are not asking for compensation for our farm lands. We are asking for compensation for our main village. We just want justice.”

Godavari, who is a local Congress leader in the constituency says, “The government should at least provide basic amenities in the R&R site and also build houses for eligible people.”

The last wish of most of the people here, is for a house under the state government’s 2BHK scheme or the promised 300 sq yards of land.

Whenever they see a training plane from the Air Force Academy flying above the R&R site, they recall what they have sacrificed and what they got in return.

Rajesh Serupally is a freelance researcher and holds a Masters degree in Public Policy.