Many villagers, especially the youth, allege that the police were harassing them and not letting them protest.

Reservoir of fear Telangana villages are fighting KCR over MallannasagarImage: Facebook/Save Mallannasagar Submerging Villages
news Ground Report Friday, July 29, 2016 - 10:19

Fifty-eight-year old Venkataiah sits near his farmland in Pallepahad village in Telangana with a troubled look. The sun hasn’t risen just yet, and he is already pouring out his apprehensions as he talks about the possibility of spending his last days as a farmer.

“Where do I go? What do I do with the money that the government gives me? I have been a farmer since my childhood,” says Venkataiah, who grows cotton on his land.

However, Venkataiah has been one of the lucky ones, as his village has taken a united stand against the acquisition of land for construction of Mallanasagar reservoir, a pet-scheme of the Telangana government.

(Venkataiah. Image: Harsha Sai)

The Mallannasagar reservoir is proposed to be constructed in Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's home district of Medak and aims to divert water to drought-hit regions of the state.

With a total population of around 3000, most of the villagers have an unwritten treaty to not give any land to the government. The youth of this village are educated and are determined to save the land.

Ramesh*, a youth admits to have pelted stones at the police a few days ago when the police lathicharged protesting villagers and also fired warning shots in the air.

“I was angry. Here is my problem with the project. I have completed my graduation and I can travel to Hyderabad, get a job that pays around Rs 10,000 and take care of my family. But what about people like him?" he asks, as he points to a 40-year-old farmer.

"He isn't educated and only knows how to farm. If they relocate him, his life will be ruined. He will only be able to do manual labour," Ramesh adds.

The government has assured people of Rs 6 lakh for every acre of farmland and a 2 BHK house near Gajwel, for their house in return.

When asked if they would accept a better deal from the government, they say that they have no faith in the government's assurance and disapprove of the bureaucracy involved in the process.

However, Ramesh adds, "We are ready to talk. Even if one TRS leader or minister comes here and sits down with us, we are ready to see if we can agree on something. Instead, they send armed policemen who don’t even spare our women from beating."

There are also nods of approval when asked if they would be okay if the government provided them with the same amount of land, elsewhere in the district.

Yadagiri, who lost his father-in-law Bachali Narsaiah a week ago after the latter hanged himself over fears of losing his land, says that their profession will also submerge with the land.

“We are mentally preparing to beg on the streets and traffic signals of Hyderabad. What else can we do?” he asks.

(File photo of an earlier protest, asking farmers to fight for their rights)

The state's irrigation minister Harish Rao, who is in-charge of the project told the press that six of the eight major villages have agreed to give their land to the government.

The village of Erravalli, which is also one of the villages that was adopted by KCR, will also lose a large portion of land for the Mallannasagar reservoir. 

"These are the leaders who fought for a separate state and achieved it. This should be a small issue to them compared to that. But they lack sincerity,” said a villager. 

Erravalli was the epicenter of the protest that eventually led to a lathicharge on July 24, injuring close to fifty villagers.

 

Many youngsters from neighbouring villages also openly admitted to participating in the protest.

The atmosphere in the village of Etigadda-Kishtapur was tense as villagers spoke in hushed tones and continuously glanced around.

Nearly half the residents of this village, adopted by Harish Rao, have given away their land to the project - at least on paper.

"There are many tactics that they are using to get the land," says one villager who refused to be identified as he claimed to have five police cases against him.

"The first one is fear-mongering. They got every TRS supporter to give their land up and then go around scaring people that it was better to give away the land before things got out-of-hand and the government took it by force," he added.

Another villager vouches for the former's claim before adding, "They deliberately ensured that some people would miss the first notification for the acquittal of the land and they increased the figures on paper." Many villagers claimed that the house numbers and land registrations were being changed, which automatically changed the ownership.  

"In return for complying with the government, the person steals our compensation money along with our land," says one lady, constantly looking over her shoulder.

While officials of the Panchayat told The News Minute that 1,100 acres out of the total 1,600 acres of land in Etigadda-Kishtapur had been acquired, they refused to comment on the allegations.

Talking to TNM, Raju, an activist said, “Lands are being taken away from us. Government employees are also pressurized by higher officials with their job at stake, and poor farmers are being misled by saying that if the land issue goes to the court, it will never be resolved. Whoever has signed, has signed out of fear.” 

Allegations of police surveillance  

Many villagers, especially the youth, allege that they are afraid to venture out of villages like Erravalli because of the police.

"They took our photos from the protest and are singling us out in our villages. If we move anywhere, we only go after sunset," Ramesh says.

He goes on to add, “We are being targeted by the police. They are warning us not to protest. We have a right to fight for our villages but we are scared after how things changed after the lathicharge.”

The villagers of Pallepahad also alleged that one of their youngsters was beaten up by the police, a day after the protest, after a policemen identified him.

"They come around 9 am and stay at the entrance of the village, by the highway till the evening," one Erravalli villager said. 

As of Wednesday evening, armed policemen were standing near the entrance of the village and section 144 remained imposed. 

 

*Name changed

 

Also read - 

A tale of two suicides: The families that Telangana's Mallanasagar project is destroying

Ground report: In Mallannasagar, TDP and Congress see a political opportunity to bounce back

Also read: Ground report: In Mallannasagar, TDP and Congress see a political opportunity to bounce back

 

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