The farmers claim that their lands are being taken away to favour the Bimavaram, Gonasapudi and M Muppala upper caste (Kamma) farmers, who are allies of the local TDP MLA Y Sambashiva Rao.

Upper caste landlords have snatched away our lands Andhra Dalit farmers allegeAll images: By arrangement
news Land Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - 15:36

The livelihoods of as many as 20 Dalit families have been doomed in M Muppala village of Andhra Pradesh’s Prakasam district, as their land which they've been cultivating for decades has been allegedly snatched away by upper caste landlords, who are also allies of the local MLA.

Brewing for more than a year, the issue has taken a turn for the worse with the decision to construct an irrigation tank under the state government’s popular 'Neeru Chettu' scheme, which has come as a blow for the agricultural families.

According to the protesting families, their lands are being taken away in order to favour the Bimavaram, Gonasapudi and M Muppala upper caste (Kamma) farmers, who are allies of the local TDP MLA Y Sambashiva Rao.

Earlier in September 2017, landless farmers had told TNM that they either have to work on someone else’s field or take up another profession, to eke out a living.

With their worst fears coming true, the Dalit farmers have been forced to become daily wage earners in Ongole town or move out of the village in search of livelihood.

The ‘Neeru Chettu’ programme is intended to make the state ‘drought proof' in five years, besides eradicating poverty and reducing economic inequality by implementing better water conservation techniques. However, due to the apathy of authorities and elected representatives, the Dalit farmers were kept away from their fields for one year i.e. two crop seasons.

Dalits from the village claim that in 1994, they had bought 20 acres of land from Dalit farmers of a neighbouring village Bimavaram, which falls in Parchuru assembly constituency.

In 2017, when Dalits retaliated and prevented machines from taking their land for constructing a water tank, a case was filed against as many as 10 Dalit farmers by Mandal revenue authorities.

"We didn’t even know that a case had been filed against us until I was informed by the local police a few days before the hearing at Parchuru court," said P Camen Babu, 48, a farmer who has now turned into a daily wage NREGA labourer.

With each passing day, worries are mounting for the Dalit farmers, who have been unable to cultivate following the loss of two cropping seasons, due to the dispute.

According to P Purnachandar Rao, who owns 1.2 acres out of the total 20 acres, the land or soil in their fields is fertile and can fetch at least Rs 50,000 per crop.

Last week, the local contractors came with machinery and levelled their lands, in their objective of building an irrigation tank, allege protesting Dalit families.

The Dalit families allege that the plan of setting up an irrigation tank has been hatched to avail water facilities for the lands of upper caste farmers from Bimavaram and M- Muppala. While Bimavaram falls in Inkollu mandal, M Mupala falls under Naguluppalapdu.

Camen Babu said, "The local police are saying any action on our part will lead to cases against us. We have even reached out to the local MP / MLA, but they are not concerned about our problem."

Farmers have also asked for alternative farmlands if at all the construction of the irrigation tank cannot be stopped, but officials have apparently turned a blind eye to their demands.

Camen, who sees no future unless they retain their lands, said, "We can't tell how much we are suffering, losing the land is big blow to us, as we don't have any other properties. I have two young daughters, and I don't know what their future will be."

Following TNM's multiple efforts to reach out to the concerned revenue authorities, Ongole RDO (Revenue Divisional Officer) K Srinivas Rao directed us to Inkollu Tehisildar/Mandal Revenue Officer Lakshmi Kumari. 

Speaking to TNM, Lakshmi Kumari said that these farmers don’t have any possession certificates and these lands belong to the government.

She said, "In June 2016, we had taken control of the lands and handed it to Gram Panchayat (GP), they're using it for irrigation tank purposes."

When TNM asked if the tank was being constructed just to favour certain upper caste farmers as alleged by the Dalit families, she said, "These are baseless allegations spread by outsiders. Before the works began, we had asked the farmers to prove their ownership. Those who have shown their documents, their lands were not taken for the irrigation tank construction."

When TNM raised the issue of Dalit farmers having certain documents such as tax payment receipt, temporary patta, she said, "Our records don’t show any such certificates being issued to them."

Reacting to Dalit farmers going to the High court seeking a stay order on the issue, the officer said, "We will follow what the honourable Court asks us to do."

On the issue of giving alternative land to the protesting Dalit farmers, Lakshmi Kumari said, "M-Muppala falls in Naguluppalapadu mandal, concerned persons will see into the matter. We can't ensure them alternative lands since they're not from our mandal (Inkollu).”

Given the serious allegations levelled against the local MLA, TNM made several efforts to reach out to him, but he was unavailable for comment.  

 

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