“We complain to the police when thieves and goons enter our homes but what can we do if the police themselves turn violators, dragging and beating us up. It was a nightmare for all of us,” says Nomula Swarupa (48), one of the several villagers injured in an overnight raid on June 13 by the police at Gudatipally. The village in Siddipet district of Telangana faces threat of submergence once the Gouravelli reservoir is realised.
Villagers facing eviction from their lands due to the reservoir project were at loggerheads with the government as they were not satisfied with the compensation and rehabilitation package. The village which falls under the Akkannapet mandal has been subjected to land acquisition twice as the capacity of the project was increased from 1.4 TMCFT (thousand million cubic feet) to 8.23 TMCFT.
A deserted colony in Gudatipally village
TNM visited the village, which is around 150 kilometres away from the state capital Hyderabad to probe the allegations of police excesses on the wee hours of June 13 and reasons behind the agitation. According to the villagers, several residents are yet to receive compensation as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
On June 13, the state Minister for Health and Finance, Harish Rao was scheduled to oversee a trial run of the pump sets of the project. The protesting villagers had declared that they wouldn't allow it to take place since they feared it would speed up the commissioning of the reservoir leaving them with no option but to evacuate from the village.
The local police, which had identified people who were actively participating in the protests, raided the Gudatipally village in the wee hours of June 13. According to villagers, a 300-strong police team entered the village and dragged out the residents from their houses.
Baddam Shankar Reddy, 35 a graduate farmer said: “We were peaceful and wanted our demands to be heard peacefully, but it seems the police have taken our cry for justice as a threat. In order to prove that they can silence us they have broken the heads of at least three persons and injured many including women.”
Shankar Reddy was arrested by the police along with another person a day after TNM met him at his village. He has been charged with attacking the police at MLA’s camp office.
Nomula Anitha and Nomula Swarupa Nomula, who were injured during the police raid
Nomula Swarupa and Nomula Anitha were injured, allegedly during the police raid, as they tried to stop the police from taking away the men from the village. The villagers alleged that it was an officer by the name Raghupathi Reddy who supervised the police raid in the village for taking people into preventive custody.
Swarupa said her gold chain had gone missing in the wee hours during the police action. Anitha had to be admitted in a hospital at Karimnagar after she was injured in the stomach. “They beat me up with a police baton in the dark. Power supply was also cut during the night. After one day of treatment at the hospital they asked me to visit again. We are being treated as criminals just because we are seeking our rightful compensation,” she said.
Boyini Prabhakar, who is yet to receive compensation for ancestral agricultural land of three acres, says he has 10 stitches in his head after being hit by the police. “The police hit me with a baton on the head, they did not care even though I was bleeding. It was only after taking us to the police station that they realised the injury was big and shifted me to hospital,” says Prabhakar.
Boyini Prabhakar, who was injured during police action
A tense situation was created when the villagers marched to Husnabad and began a protest in front of the police station. Though the police had tried to stop the villagers they were unsuccessful. After the day-long protest the villagers went back after receiving assurance that their concerns were brought to the notice of Minister Harish Rao.
A day later, on June 14, police resorted to baton charging the villagers after a protest at the camp office of local MLA Sathish Babu. Farmers told TNM that they were provoked by the messages on WhatsApp by the followers of TRS MLA Sathish Kumar.
According to the villagers,TRS men had dared them to stop the trial run and challenged them to come to the MLA camp office if they wanted to stop it. They decided to go to the MLA camp office to protest the “arrogance and the mistreatment” being meted out to them despite giving their land and village for the project.
A farmer said “there was a confrontation as they started raising slogans against us accusing us of stopping the development by delaying the project. They pelted stones on us while the police stayed mute spectators. As we were about to enter the camp office, the police assaulted us at the gate.”
According to reports, besides farmers, several cops including Husnabad Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) too have been injured. Three farmers including Shankar Reddy have been arrested by the police and have been remanded in Karimnagar jail.
While a report in The Hindu said that police are searching for five more persons who are “absconding,” a villager said the police have booked around 20 people on charges of attacking police officials.
TNM tried to reach out to Husnabad ACP over phone to seek a clarification on the episode and on allegations of police excess against the villagers, however the officer was unavailable for comment. This report will be updated if and when he responds.
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) acting on the complaints from the farmers of the village has directed the Director General of Police (DGP) to look into the complaints.
A compensation of Rs 6.5 lakh per acre was provided to land owners when nearly 3,000 acres were acquired in the first and second phases. Some farmers, who own around 270 acres together, have gone to the High Court seeking “fair compensation” under R&R Act 2013, since the Rs 6.5 lakh per acre was not enough. Later, they were given around Rs 15 lakhs per acre as compensation in November 2021.
However, no uniformity is being applied for compensating the land owners when they are acquired for irrigation projects. There are also allegations that the project oustees in Thotapalli, from where state Minister Harish Rao hails from, were given higher compensation than others.
The villagers are demanding a fair rehabilitation and resettlement package of Rs 8 lakh beside a house plot for each individual. According to villagers with whom TNM spoke to, there are around 110 individuals who have not yet received the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) packages.
As per the Act, each individual who is above the age of 18 years would be considered as a family unit and given rehabilitation and resettlement package which includes a wholesome amount beside a plot of land for construction of the house.
In Gudatipally, the government is apparently willing to give 200 square yards of land for construction of houses apart from the rehabilitation amount. Villagers are demanding a minimum of Rs 8 lakhs beside a plot of land for constructing house near Husnabad town or a place not threatened by submergence. Another contention of the villagers is that there are another 300 individuals who have attained 18 years in the last three four years. They are demanding R&R packages for the fresh candidates as well as they’re also affected.
“They (officials) are negotiating with us as if they are doing business. Why should we settle for less when we have given everything for the project? Do they think that they are doing charity,” asks a youngster, who was injured in the police action.
However, a news report in The Hindu quoting Husnabad Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) Jayachandra Reddy said payment of compensation has been completed except for 85 acres and that 927 out of 937 persons in the village got the R&R package in 2017. It also said resettlement payments for all the houses in the village have been cleared.