"What can you do if they ask you to leave your home, when you don't know where to go?" asks Gouramma Kaaram, a Koya (Adivasi) women farmer from Jaggavaram of Kunavaram mandal in East Godavari.
Jaggavaram is one of the almost 338 villages in 9 mandals which are being affected by the Polavaram, a multipurpose irrigation project, a prized project for past and present governments.
The growing fear about the future, insecurity, and hopes of getting justice has brought hundreds of farmers from villages affected by Polavaram to a 30-hour dharna in Vijayawada.
The Polavaram project construction is likely to displace nearly 3 lakh people out of which 50% of the population is tribal and 15% are Dalits, while the remaining are OBC's.
The Dharna, has been organised by CPI, CPI (M), and CPI (ML) along with other left parties demanding proper implementation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. They want due compensation to be paid to all affected people, and for each person who is 18 years of age or above to be considered as a single unit.
Gouramma voices the concern of the farmers present, when she says, “They’re saying they’ll take our land. But they haven’t given us any land for building our homes yet. We are not sure if we will get compensation for our 4 acres of land.”
‘This is our home’
In 2007, during YS Rajashekar Reddy's term as CM, the first phase of land acquisition was carried out for the project. At that point, the government offered the farmers Rs 1.15 lakh as compensation per acre of land in all 9 mandals, despite the farmers’ refusal to give up their land.
But now what Gouramma fears most is government officials saying that their lands will be taken as per the old "award cost."
Payam Bupamma (45) who also hails from the same village says, "We don't know where to go. We have lived here all this time - our home is here, our cattle is here. If they don't rehabilitate us we will all drown in 'Godari' (river Godavari).”
Podiam Apparao (42) of Jaggavaram is very anxious about what the government plans to do. A Class 10 dropout, Podiam says, “Our life, tradition, livelihood are all at stake despite having legislation to support us.”
“We need shelter,” he adds. “We need a village. Without even finding a rehabilitation site, how can they ask us to leave from here?” he asks.
Different compensation for different villages?
The compensation pattern seems to be skewed, raising doubts about irregularities.
The farmers are hoping to get fair compensation at present rates, which are at Rs 10.8 lakh per acre. That’s the rate at which neighbouring villages are being compensated.
Podiam says, "Chinturu, Yetipaka, VR Puram, Kunavaram… The mandal authorities in each of these places are offering different compensations. While they’re telling us that our village falls under the Rs 1.15 lakh per acre category, other villages are offered Rs 10.8 lakh. Some are even given Rs 28 lakh per acre.”
The farmers all accuse the government of something more sinister. “They think we will run for our lives once the water comes, so they can wash their hands of us without giving us compensation or rehabilitating us,” Bupamma says.
Out of these 9 mandals, two – Kukunoor and Velairpadu – fall in the West Godavari district under Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA).
‘We need employment’
Payam Rajashekar (26) is the oldest among the group of youngsters who are keenly hearing their MLA, Sunnam Rajaiah (Telanagana-Bardrachalam) speak in their mother tongue. All of them have come from Gannavaram, one of the affected villages of Yetipaka mandal,East Godavari district. Yetipaka was in Khammam district of Telanagana in undivided Andhra Pradesh.
Breaking the silence, Payam says, "It’s like leaving us in the pitch dark. We don't know what we will get as compensation.”
Payam, who did his Bachelors in Commerce says, "In 2007, a few people got compensation. But most of us didn’t have land documents to show ownership. When we go to revenue offices, they ask us for bribes. They claim we have ‘nothing to lose’ by giving them a cut from the ‘lakhs’ that we get.”
Ramesh Komuram (19), a farmer, retorts, “They don't know what all we are losing. We’ve lived here all this time, now we don’t know where to go and live.”
They all demand that along with fair compensation, all the educated youngsters in the gudems/hamlets should be given employment.