He also alleged that goons threatened to kill him if he did not withdraw his petition with the NGT

Meet the 72-year-old who could stall Chandrababu Naidus Amaravati dreamImage: Facebook
news Sunday, November 01, 2015 - 13:14

For a 72-year-old retired journalist and political analyst, Pandalaneni Srimannarayana is a busy man. For the past few months, he has been fighting against the construction of Andhra's dream capital of Amaravati on the banks of the River Krishna.

On October 10, in a major victory for the public interest litigation filed by the Vijayawada-native, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) extended the stay on construction activity of Amaravati, and directed the state not to bulldoze agricultural fields or clear the land in the area.

Prohibiting construction, the NGT had said "Stay orders prohibiting all kinds of construction in the capital city zone will continue. Do not take up even land leveling work and do not remove any crop from this zone."  

However, the government has since gone ahead with its plan and laid the foundation stone for the capital.

"I started my career as a journalist and then took over the family business followed by a few social activities for a while. Now, I'm also a political analyst," Srimannarayana says. 

He also makes it very clear, that he has no political affiliations.

In February this year, Srimannarayana approached the Supreme Court first but was directed to go to the NGT, where he filed a petition claiming that the areas under the capital were classified in Seismic Zone III and prone to earthquakes. He also claimed that fertile land would be destroyed by urbanization.

"I'm not saying we do not need a capital. Andhra needs a capital, and deserves a good one. However, this particular plan is more like a real estate business deal at the cost of farmers," he says.

In May, the NGT issued notices to the Ministry of Forests and Environment, Andhra Pradesh government and the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) for undertaking development works for the new capital city on the Krishna River bank without conducting appropriate environmental impact assessment.

"The area by the River Krishna is one of the most fertile lands in India as well as in the world. Up to 120 varieties of crop can be grown here and it gives three yields a year," Srimannarayana adds.

While the recent foundation stone laying ceremony by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was much celebrated, many reports of the other side of the story have also come up.

In a report by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, he writes:

It's a familiar story. Landless labourers who work on other's land to earn their livelihood have had to bear the brunt of the state government's strategy of acquiring their land. And predictably, the biggest beneficiaries have been absentee landlords from Hyderabad, Guntur and Vijaywada who have become rich overnight. Many of such individuals belong to the Kamma community to which the chief minister belongs. 

In another report for The Hindu, Ram Karan writes:

The place where Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has planned to fulfil his grand ambition of building a capital city consists of rich riverine farmland. As it exists today, it’s a beautiful pastoral ecosystem in which agriculture has snuggled itself cosily into the folds of the environment, a landscape of vegetable orchards, neem woods, thickly vegetated hills, narrow paths protected by a canopy of peepals and farmsteads with sparrows nesting in the awnings..Why would you want to turn this place into Singapore?

That is not all. Reports have also come in of the state allegedly using coercive methods to scare activists and farmers.

Last week, Srimannarayana alleged that goons entered his house and threatened to kill him if he did not withdraw his petition with the NGT. That same night, nearly five acres of a sugar cane crop was mysteriously burnt in Guntur's Malkapuram village.

Chandrasekhar Rao, the farmer who owned the land, told NDTV "The previous evening, the crop looked ready to harvest. Next morning, it was all burnt. I did not give my land for the capital. Those who gave, my neighbours, their lands are untouched by the fire," he says.

"Chandrasekhar's nephew has also since been kidnapped by the police, who are threatening to put false charges on them and lock them up for many years, if they don't give their land," Srimannarayana alleges.

While adding that many fertile crops were destroyed by the government despite the stay order to the NGT, Srimannarayana adds "Naxals treat the farmers better than this. I have submitted the photographs to the NGT and I now plan to file a contempt of court against the chief minister and the government."

The next hearing by the court is up on Thursday, and Srimannarayana plans to file the case before Wednesday.

When asked how he would accept victory and defeat, he says "It would not be my personal victory. I would just be happy that food security is restored for the farmers in the area. If I lose, two lakh acres will soon be a concrete jungle, and the next generation will suffer."

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