“I want to go to school but they destroyed it,” these moving words come from 6-year-old Smily Kavala, a Dalit girl, as she pats her only friend, her pet Snoopy. They play in front of her tiny house facing the Godavari river at Pydipaka, one of the villages that will be submerged due to the mega Polavaram irrigation project in Andhra Pradesh.
Smily’s family comprising her parents, two brothers and her is one of the few standing steadfast in the midst of ruins, despite all-out efforts by the authorities to chase them out of the village.
The village that once had a population of more than 1,300, comprising 439 families, is now left with less than 40 people, a mere 10 families. Others have been evacuated to rehabilitation sites at Jangareddygudem, Hukumpeta and Chandranna Colony.
Speaking to TNM, Smily’s mother Sreedevi sitting beside her sons, Bharath and Prashanth, who play a number puzzle game, says, “Neither were we given a house at Jangareddygudem nor a package as per the Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) Act, 2013.”
When asked about the children’s schooling, Sreedevi says, “While the elder one is studying in Polavaram, the other two are not going to school at present.”
Her husband Surya Chandra, who was earlier an agricultural labourer but is now an auto driver, at times drops the elder son Prashanth to school.
When asked how it felt to stay there any without people or friends around, Sreedevi says, “We feel very scared… no one comes here, there is no power connection or drinking water facility.”
Sreedevi told TNM that their efforts to get compensation or rehabilitation was in vain as there has been no response from the officials.
Polavaram, the popular multipurpose irrigation project, is a prized venture of past and present governments. The realisation of the project will displace nearly 3 lakh people, out of which 50% are tribals and 15% Dalits, while the remaining are OBCs, all of whose source of livelihood is agriculture.
AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu during his recent site inspection instructed WRD (Water Resources Department) authorities to consider completion of the project by May 2019.
Livelihoods and kids’ education affected
Pydipaka is one of the 338 villages, spread across nine mandals in the twin Godavari districts under Schedule-V areas, on the banks of the Godavari. The villagers were evacuated in June 2016 and resettled at different sites.
Villagers claim that only 10 families were given the R&R package while 50 families did not receive anything except house valuation. Even the families who received the package are alleging several lapses and irregularities in the land provided to them.
B Thrimurthulu Yadav, a farmer who stayed back in the village with his five-member family, has another story to tell.
“To drive us out of the village, they spoiled my crops by dumping waste in my fields,” he said as he showed this reporter his fields which were seen to be filled with loose soil.
Thrimurthulu is demanding compensation for his 21/2 acres under the R&R Act since he possessed the property till 2016 along with the 10 cents of site on which his house stands, including house valuation.
Thrimurthulu managed to admit his son in a private degree college in Rajamundry but his daughter Madhavi had to put off her studies after Intermediate.
As Madhavi watches sadly, Thrimurthulu says, “We had to stop her education. There are no proper transport facilities to reach her school. All her classmates have moved away, so she does not have any company to go to college. I’m worried about sending her alone. It’s not possible for me to take her to college and bring her back home every day.”
Concerned about leaving his family alone at home even during the day, Thrimurthulu says, “Many days I don’t go to work at all. Other times I come back home right in the middle of work to check that they are alright.”
Another farmer, Botta Apparao, who is yet to get compensation for his 8 acres, claims that their cattle are also targeted and killed. He alleges that the project people have dug huge pits to dump slushy waste from the project site; cattle who try to get into the pits to drink water become stuck in the mud and get killed in the process.
Apparao adds, “There was not a single day where the police or project people didn’t threaten us. They even misbehaved with the women in the village.”
Dalits allege segregation
While a few decided to stay back, many left the village on the basis of promises of land replacement and fair rehabilitation made by the officials.
The officials seem to have thought it wise to ensure that there should not be any social contact between different groups of people. Rehabilitation sites have been allotted with “caste prejudices”, allege several Dalit agricultural labourers from Pydipaka, who have now been “displaced” at Hukumpeta.
On a visit to the Hukumpet rehabilitation site in Gangolu panchayat, TNM observed that the houses were built very crudely.
28 Dalit families, which were collectively provided 22 acres of land back in Pydipaka to cultivate crops, were resettled at Hukumpeta but haven’t been given land as promised.
Puli Veeraswamy, a Dalit labourer, says, “The government authorities baited us by promising that they would give us 10.56 acres of land collectively as well as 2 acres of land for each family. But after coming here they said that local landowners were not willing to sell their land.”
Rapaka Venkatesh, who is now making an income weaving bamboo baskets says, “As it is, we have lost our livelihood. Forget about getting land, here the local landlords/owners are not even allowing us cut grass for our cattle.”
Venkatesh explains, “They look down on us just because we are Dalits… there is no one to question them. While OCs and BCs are rehabilitated at Jangareddygudem, a few who are in good terms with local politicians have been resettled at Chandranna Colony, near Polavaram, where there are good facilities.”
Uppula Praveen Kumar (24), father of two children, who was put up in a temporary shelter in the Hukumpeta school building, is now forced to live in a rented house because the government is unable to accommodate his family at the rehabilitation site.
K Chinni, who was attending to her hospitalised husband during the rehabilitation drive, is now without a home. The family was forced to move to Hukumpeta and is living with their old neighbours. Chinni’s daughter Nagashirisha told TNM that when they approached the government officials seeking rehabilitation, they were allegedly told, “Your family is not in the list.”