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The court had asked officials not to carry out work on the land of the petitioners until the government settles the relief and rehabilitation claims.
  • Thursday, August 22, 2019 - 18:16

In yet another case pertaining to the rehabilitation and resettlement of those displaced by the Mallanasagar irrigation project, the Telangana High Court sentenced two government officials to simple imprisonment for two months and a fine of Rs 2,000 each for contempt of its past orders. 

The court found that Gajwel Revenue Division Officer Vijayayendra Reddy and Kondapaka Tehisildar Prabhu had violated its orders. 

The court was hearing a petition filed in October 2018 by three farmers from the Tippapur in Siddipet district. The farmers alleged that their lands were acquired in violation of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. They claimed that they were only partial rehabilitated and didn’t receive the full amount. As per the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, the state must provide relief and rehabilitation which includes money, and a house in exchange for a house. 

The three farmers held 17.30 acres, for which they demanded Rs 1,15,000 per acre, similar to the compensation doled out by the government to some farmers in Vemulaghat village, which is also affected by the project.

The court earlier ordered the concerned officials not to start work on the project on the land under question until the government settles the relief and rehabilitation claims of the farmers. 

The Mallannasagar reservoir is part of Telangana's flagship Kaleshwaram project, which aims to provide drinking water to each household in the state.

However, as officials carried out work on the lands under question without adequate settlement, the petitioners approached the court. On Tuesday, Justice MS Ramachandra Rao of the Telangana High Court took a serious view of the violation of its orders. 

The petitioner's counsel had argued that the violation of the court order was done deliberately without adequately rehabilitating them as directed by the court.

Speaking to TNM, Chethireddy Narayana Reddy, one of the petitioners, said that their lands were forcefully taken away by 'unfair means', despite the court’s orders. “When we refused to give up the land as the government was not fulfilling our claims, the High Court also ordered the government officials not to take our lands until out claims are settled, but they uprooted our crops before dawn," he said.

The petitioners have expressed hope that the government will look into their rehabilitation and resettlement claims. 

The court has given the government six weeks to file an appeal in the case, and stayed the sentence till then. 

Read: Ground report: This Telangana village on a 900-day protest vows to vote against TRS

Reservoir of fear: Telangana villages are fighting KCR over Mallannasagar

Education
Following the end of tenure of eight VCs in July, the government appointed IAS officers already holding other positions as caretaker VCs.
  • Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 18:07
Image courtesy: Nitin B

Opposition parties in Telangana, Congress and BJP, are up in arms against the ruling TRS government over the appointment of IAS officers as caretaker/in-charge Vice-Chancellors for eight government-run universities in the state.

Following the end of tenure of eight VCs in July, the government appointed IAS officers already holding other positions in different government departments as caretaker VCs.

Principal Secretary of Municipal Administration and Urban Development Arvind Kumar has been given the charge of Osmania University and Mahatma Gandhi Universities while V Anil Kumar, Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, has been given Potti Sriramulu Telugu University and Telangana University. Principal Secretary (Agriculture) C Parthasarathi will be the caretaker for BR Ambedkar Open University and Secretary of IT department Jayesh Ranjan for JNTU-H while Education Secretary B Janardhan Reddy is looking after Kakatiya University and Rahul Bojja, Commissioner of Agriculture, is in charge of Palamuru University.

The VC of the Prof Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University, Praveen Rao, is the only one hailing from the academic fraternity.

The opposition parties as well as academics and student leaders are alleging that the “deliberate delay” in appointing permanent VCs is diluting the interests of the public universities in the state.

Speaking to TNM, senior Congressman Guduru Narayana Reddy demanded immediate appointment of VCs from academic background in order to save the universities in the state.

He said, “KCR is bent upon spoiling the image of the public universities, he is trying to protect the interests of his daughter who has started educational institutions.”

He added, “How can IAS officers look after universities? VCs should be from academia, those who have exposure and know the issues. Appointing someone who is not from the academic fraternity is unfair and idiotic.”

The BJP too blamed the ruling TRS government of destroying public universities in the state. K Krishna Saagar Rao, chief spokesperson of the Telangana BJP, said that the government is “incompetent” even in appointing VCs for universities.

“KCR appointing IAS officers as in-charge VCs has showcased his government’s utter disregard for regular administration and academic activities of the universities,” he claimed.

Prof Padmaja Shaw, an activist and academic, said that such acts will affect the autonomy of universities and slowly damage public education sector.

She alleged that universities were being converted into government departments by disregarding the fact that they are centres of knowledge. She stated, “From the beginning, this government has crossed all limits to sabotage the public sector universities in the state in order to pave way for privatisation of education.”

She also said that appointing IAS officers as VCs will not serve any purpose as they were already preoccupied with their regular work and also because they do not have the exposure required to run a university.

Student leaders are also calling the decision to appoint bureaucrats as VCs nothing but a move to take over the universities into the government’s fold by subverting their autonomy.

Speaking to TNM, Stalin, a research scholar at Osmania University and AISF National Universities Coordinator, said that the state government is committed to promoting private universities and making profits while killing public universities.

He said, “With the appointment of IAS officers as VCs, the KCR government wants the administration of universities to be done from the state secretariat so that they can take decisions according to their interests.”

He further said, “All the decisions taken by the government in the last 3-4 years have harmed public universities. In Osmania University, the government even scrapped the University Executive Council.”

The Executive Council is constituted with internal and external professors to work for the university and plays a key role in decision-making.

According to Stalin, in OU alone 60% of faculty positions are vacant. He claimed that though there is sanction for over 400 faculty posts, the government is deliberately not filling them.

“First the universities will lose NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) accreditation for not maintaining academic standards and UGC will not release funds as there are no faculty as per the requisite ratio in universities. Slowly the universities will collapse and then they will be handed over to private universities, which will ultimately deprive marginalised communities of education,” Stalin alleged.

 
Rural issues
The unconstitutional bodies often perpetuate the social and caste structure by imposing social boycotts on marginalised communities that do not bend to their diktats.
  • Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 14:45
A welcome board by a VDC at the entrance of Pipri village

Bussapur is a tiny village in Telangana’s Armoor sub-division situated just off National Highway 44, around 200 km from the state’s capital of Hyderabad. At first glance, nothing looks strange about the village. But underneath the garb of normalcy, Bussapur and many other villages in the region are witness to social boycotts by Village Development Committees (VDCs), which often act as extra-constitutional authorities.

Claiming to work for the development of the village, VDCs are constituted with representatives from each local community, following which elections for committee president, vice-president and treasurer take place. However, VDCs often end up perpetuating the continuation of social and caste structure in the village.

The case of Bussapur is unique because the VDC here has boycotted the highest elected representative of the village – the sarpanch.

It is a semi-cloudy day with sporadic rainfall in the first week of August, and lush green paddy fields can be seen in the distance as this reporter visits the house of Jakkula Mamatha, a Dalit woman who was the sarpanch of Bussapur from 2013 to 2019.

For more than a year and half, Mamatha and her family have been socially boycotted by the VDC in her village. This means that a diktat has been issued that no resident of Bussapur must be seen conducting any transaction with her family. Any violation of the boycott will result in a hefty fine ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 10,000.

“We even get milk, groceries and vegetables from outside the village. Nobody sells us anything and we too have stopped asking them,” Mamatha says, talking about how the boycott has become normalised.

Mamtha and Srinivas

Mamatha’s husband Srinivas says, “Now we are reaching out to farmers in other villages to hire tractors and cultivators. Even if we want to hire labourers for the farm, they are scared of fines and consequences.”

Mamatha’s family is not alone. Three other families in Bussapur are at the receiving end of a well-calculated move unleashed by the dominant Reddy caste in the village.

Linganna and Sayanna, two others who were boycotted by Bussapur's VDC 

Socially binding diktats

The boycotted families say that it began in January 2017 when certain members of the Reddy community, who are currently part of the VDC, approached them.

“During Independence, around 21 acres of land on the outskirts of the village was allotted to different families as ‘community land’ to be used for grazing and other common purposes. Ten and a half acres was in the name of the four families that are facing boycott now and the remaining was in the name of the Reddys. In 2017, they demanded that we transfer the entire land in our name to them,” Srinivas says.

While three families belong to the Mala and Madiga community categorised as Scheduled Castes, one family belongs to the Nayakpod community (ST).

Speaking to TNM, all the four families said that influential members of the Reddy community from the village held a meeting in the presence of other communities and ordered the four families to either agree to the terms of the VDC and write off their land, or be ready to face the consequences. As they didn’t agree they were boycotted, the families claim.

Maddikunta Sayanna, the farmer from the Nayakpod community who is facing the boycott, says, “We didn’t agree to their terms. The land belongs to all communities. How can they ask us to transfer it to merely one community?”

However, Bussapur is not the only village in the region where VDCs issue social diktats and function with such impunity.

A welcome board by a VDC at Chittapur

How VDCs became an ‘institution’

Observers from the region say that formats similar to the VDC have existed in the past in the form of ‘village elders’, but since the late 90s and the early 2000s, they have been given a more well-defined shape and form, which also allows them to wield more power.

Though the pooling of representatives from all communities sounds like an inclusive idea in principle, the ground reality is different as the terms and conditions are always set by the dominant castes, notes Gangaram K, a Backward Caste farmer from Bussapur.

“There are 200 BC and SC families but we get only four representatives, while 150 families from the dominant castes get 8 representatives,” he points out.

Being an activist hailing from the Dalit community, senior advocate and former Zilla Parishad Chairman Ganta Sadanandam has a lot to say about VDCs.

Sadanandam

Sitting in his office in Armoor town, Sadanandam says that one first needs to understand the socio-political economy of the region. Armoor is agriculturally well-off thanks to the Sriram Sagar irrigation project, and communities like the Reddys and Kapus, who traditionally held lands, managed to garner wealth and political power.

Communities with no land, mainly Dalits, began migrating to the Gulf countries.

The Gulf migration by Dalits and other marginalised castes ensured that they became better off financially. Sadanandam says that this threatened the social structure that was prevalent in these villages.

“By the early 2000s, the idea of ‘village elders’ took new form as the VDC. Today VDCs operate in such a way that there is nothing on paper. They are unconstitutional bodies that do not even spare MLAs if they don’t bend to their diktats,” he says.

The toll of a boycott

Close to the Sriram Sagar reservoir lies the Vaddera colony of Khanapur village. With the project submerging several villages, a settlement village called Maggidi came up between the colony and Khanapur.

Vaddera is one of the most backward communities in the state, which has been demanding ST status for a long time. Their colony, which is now stuck between two villages, has another unique story to tell.

The colony has around 100 families, who say they have been residing there for as long as they can remember. Most of them are farmers with a piece of land, which they claim they bought after working in Gulf countries and earning some money.

The locals here say that they are too far from Khanapur to be part of the VDC there, but at the same time they have faced repeated social boycotts from the VDC at Maggidi.

When TNM visited the colony, we learnt that the matter began in July when the Vadderas pooled in money and tried to lay a service road up to a bus stand situated nearby.

Narsanna, a farmer in his mid-30s, says, “As the existing mud road was an issue, we decided to renovate and make the bus stand area comfortable. However, a few could not digest the fact that we were laying our own road and turned it into a dispute, claiming that we encroached a piece of their land.”

The road that runs through the Vaddera colony

He adds, “Soon the matter was blown out of proportion and the Maggidi VDC announced a social boycott of our colony.”

The boycott had severe repercussions for the Vadderas as they were denied electricity, groceries, water supply, and could not even find agricultural work in the fields.

“They have all become one and we have become the other,” a Vaddera women claims.

Assertion a reason?

Linganna, the Khanapur vice-sarpanch who stays in the Vaddera colony, says, “Earlier we used to work as labourers for them but now some of us are living a decent life, and while several of us are into agriculture, they seem to be unable to digest our growth. The boycott is unwarranted.”

“We don’t want to fight. We want to have a cordial relationship like earlier, but they don’t want us to be assertive,” Linganna adds.

The community has filed a case against members of the VDC with the local police alleging social boycott and discrimination. After the police interfered, the VDC backed away and removed the social boycott.

A youngster who didn’t want to be named says, “It’s just a temporary calm, now that this dispute has happened a clear divide is there.”

In most such cases of highhandedness by the VDCs, the only option left for those facing boycott is to approach the police and the courts.

In Manthani village, a similar diktat was issued by the VDC when at least 120 Dalit families refused to give land for a temple. The matter went to court but none of the VDC members were arrested.

When TNM visited the village, the families said that though there was no social boycott imposed at present, the way they are treated is no better.

Ravi G, a former VDC member, says, “Until we filed a case, we were denied even transport facilities such as auto or tractor… owners were ordered not to give their vehicles on hire to us.”

The locals of Manthani

Dodging legal scrutiny

Sadanandam explains that VDCs often don’t face legal scrutiny as nothing is established on paper.

“Generally, cases are booked under sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which dictate an imprisonment of 3 to 5 years, making it easy for the accused to get bail from the police station itself,” he says.

In cases like that of the Vaddera colony, even the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act does not apply.

“While there have been no convictions, we managed to get compensation in some cases, including for the social boycott at Manthani. But again there is a complication, as only those named as complainants in the FIR got a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each,” Sadanandam adds.

The Dalit families in Manthani say that while they had initially gone to the police station with 120 names, the final FIR had only 13 complainants. The remaining people are yet to be compensated for the boycott that they were put through.

While repeated calls to Nizamabad Commissioner Karthikeya went unanswered, TNM spoke to National SC Commission member K Ramulu, who had visited some of these villages in the region when social boycotts were imposed.

“This issue has not come to the notice of the state government in a full-fledged manner. The Commission has reached out to the Chief Secretary and a letter was also sent. We are planning to hold a review meeting soon with regard to such social boycotts by ‘VDCs’ in the district,” Ramulu says.

“We will ensure that the government issues firm guidelines to district authorities to take necessary action whenever and wherever required. In our opinion, these bodies are unconstitutional and acting beyond the purview of the law. Even SC guidelines (on khap panchayats) state that no such bodies are allowed to take such actions or persecute people,” he adds.

When pointed out that there was no specific law to deal with such boycotts, he says, “It is true, there is no law. We are looking at the issue in a larger sense as there are similar bodies across the country. The Commission is working towards directing concerned states to draft a law to curb such activities.”

However, on the ground, locals continue to suffer. Sadanandam says that despite several cases against social boycotts being filed, it has not resulted in a single conviction. Even though the police and courts are able to intervene and undo the boycotts, true ‘normalcy’ is never really restored.

“Though the boycott has been revoked, there is not much interaction with people of other castes like earlier. The VDC says that everything is fine, but there is a silent friction,” P Srinivas, a local from Manthani, says.

Also read: Telangana’s Village Development Committees act like feudal landlords, perpetuate caste 

Caste violence
Meanwhile, one of the village development committee members dismissed the allegation and called it “fake news and misinformation”.
  • Monday, August 19, 2019 - 17:48
All images: Rajesh Serupally

Continuing their saga of punitive social boycotts, a village development committee (VDC) in Telangana's Nizamabad district has allegedly imposed a social boycott on as many as 25 families of the fisherfolk community. The incident took place in Ergatla mandal's Nagendranagar in Gummiryal. 

The incident came to light after the victims filed a complaint with the police alleging that the village development committee had issued a social boycott diktat against them in the village. VDCs are self-elected bodies, mostly prevalent in the state's Armoor mandal, which settle disputes within the villages. The idea is that each caste gets to nominate a few members from its community to the committee.

The village has over 2,000 acres of agricultural land and three water bodies on which fishermen survive.The water bodies are replenished via the Gummiryal lift irrigation scheme on river Godavari.

In 2016, the Telangana government had constructed the lift irrigation scheme with an ayacut capacity of 1,453 acres. 

TNM spoke to a few fishermen, who said that the VDC was not able to "digest the fact" that they were getting a considerable yield on fishing from the last two years.  

28-year-old Santhosh Thoparam, a local fisherman, said, "15 days ago, men from the VDC came up with a proposal of collecting Rs 50,000 per year per water body, from the fishermen community as we were fishing under their jurisdiction. When they demanded Rs 1,50,000 from us and we denied, they imposed a boycott on our families."

The diktat allegedly included no labour work, being denied groceries and vegetables, and a ban on cattle grazing in community lands. Following this, the fishermen approached the police to file a case against the VDC members.

"They fined us Rs 20,000 for even complaining to the police and threatened us to either pay the fine or stop fishing," Santhosh added. 

55-year-old Chinna Sayanna, a fisherman and present member of the VDC said, "They have taken the decision on their own by leaving me aside. They fined us Rs 20,000 as our community didn't name me in the complaint, claiming that by filing a complaint, we had wasted their time."

The village with around 1,200 families has 16 members in the VDC. The representation of different castes is also skewed as Reddys — a dominant caste which comprise a mere 200 families, have the most representation in the VDC, with four members.

The fishermen also claimed that in the past, women beedi rollers were denied their rightful share of work, as per the diktats of the VDC.

Following the complaint, the local tehsildar along with the police visited the spot and investigated the issue. A case was registered under Sections 385 (Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion), 506 (Criminal Intimidation) read with 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC.

Speaking to TNM, Yergatla SI Hari Prasad said, "As the matter came to our notice, we have given counselling to VDC members and registered a case under relevant sections of the IPC. If there is no change in the scenario, we will send the accused to remand."

"In our preliminary inquiry, we found that the claims of social boycott in the village seem to be true," he added.

Thoparam Shankar, another fishermen, said, "Even after the police came to the village and counselled them, there is no change in their treatment. We have been denied groceries and there is no social contact."

On the other hand, the VDC members of the village are in denial about the allegations of social boycott. 

When TNM reached out to one of the VDC members, he denied the allegation and said that the issue was already sorted, adding that there was no social boycott of the fishermen community. He also dubbed news reports and allegations as "fake news and misinformation".

(With inputs from Rajesh Serupally)

Fellowships
The fellowship was launched to encourage those from SC communities to pursue research.
  • Sunday, August 18, 2019 - 18:53
File

Dalit research scholars from Osmania University, Hyderabad Central University and the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) are demanding that the notification for the National Fellowship for Providing Fellowship to Scheduled Caste Students (NFSC) be released immediately. The notification has not been released for three years. 

The scholars say that despite giving multiple representations to the Union government and the University Grants Commission, the matter has not been addressed. The fellowship, then called the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship, was launched in 2005 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to encourage those from SC communities to pursue research (M.Phil, PhD). The fellowship scheme accepts 2,000 students and provides Rs 25,000 per month for a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF).

In 2017, the government changed the name of the scheme to NFSC and made it mandatory for applicants to clear the UGC-NET or the CSIR UGC NET (Council of Industrial and Scientific Research). The scholars said that making UGC-NET mandatory to apply for fellowship endangers the interests of students from marginalised sections who hail from rural backgrounds.

Speaking to TNM, Chandu Gadaraju, the president of the Osmania University Research Scholars Association (RSA), said that the government is neglecting researchers from marginalised sections and depriving them of economic resources.

Chandu, a PhD scholar in the Telugu department of Osmania University, said, “Hundreds of scholars are in distress due to lack of financial assistance for their research. It has been close to three years, and yet, that there is no notification from the UGC regarding the fellowship.”

"We have given multiple representations to officials of the UGC and the Ministry of Social Justice but there has been no response. With the lack of assistance, research is becoming tough. At least 300-400 students from OU and Kakatiya University waits for fellowships every year,” he added. 

The OU Research Scholars Association (RSA) recently submitted a memorandum to Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, seeking the release of the notification.

Chandu said, “Since there are has been no notification for the last three years, the government should release the notification for 6,000 students to admit more students.”

Ramesh Thunga, a PhD scholar at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusion Policy at the University of Hyderabad, said, “It’s unfortunate that the government has not released the SC students’ fellowship notification for three years. Because of that, many are being forced to leave academics. I have been waiting for the notification for two years. I need to get the fellowship as I don't have any financial backing.”

The students claim that University's BBL (Boarding -Boarding cum Lodging) allowance Rs 5,000 for M.Phil and Rs 8,000 for PhD is not enough, and barely covers rent and mess bills.

“Not granting the fellowships is nothing but discouraging Dalit students from getting into research. The number of Dalit scholars is already very less in research, and with such negligence, the number will only decrease further,” Ramesh added.

Student leaders claim that fellowship notifications for Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes and minority have already been released, barring the Scheduled Castes category.

Kumar Raja Kuchipudi, a research scholar in the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad and Dalit Student Union President said, “Students from the SC category are especially affected as they are first-generation students and come from economically deprived conditions. This deprivation of assistance reflects on their research as their basic needs aren't met with the BBL that university provides.”

“The DSU gave a representation to a member of the National SC Commission, demanding the immediate release of the notification for fellowship. Universities are saying that they have nothing to do with it as the fellowship doesn't come under universities but the UGC, who has to take the decision and release the notification.”

Jayadeep K, a second-year PhD scholar at EFLU, said, “Most of the students come from poor economic conditions. After the age of 25, we can't ask for help from home. Going for fieldwork, workshops and academic paper presentations need money. The amount the university grants is not sufficient.”

"Scholars would be under so much pressure, to an extent where they would even contemplate to drop from academic research,” he says.

According to Jayadeep, there are more than 40 scholars in EFLU who are awaiting the release of the fellowship notification.

Labour rights
The workers returned to India after a construction company they were working at shut down, and they forced to live in poor conditions in Saudi.
  • Friday, August 16, 2019 - 18:03
File image

Over two months after their repatriation from Saudi Arabia, 102 migrant labourers from Telangana have sought information from state government under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, seeking details about rehabilitation measures.

Speaking to TNM, one of the migrant labours who filed the RTI application said, “It’s been close to two months since we have come here. We have reached out to the government about our ordeal, and requested for rehabilitation last month, but we haven’t seen any action being taken.”

Of the 102 workers who moved the labour court in Saudi Arabia, 39 were brought back to India in June this year following the combined efforts of the state and union government. Some of them had already returned to India before June, and the rest came back after.

The workers, with the help of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) India, filed a case alleging violation of their contract in the court. They said that the construction company that had recruited them had suddenly closed down in 2018, leaving them in deplorable living conditions – they had to live in rooms without light and food for over eight months, without salaries. 

The labour court in Saudi Arabia at that time had asked the company to clear their pending wages in a given time, and also ordered for the issue of exit visas for repatriating them to India.

In July, a month after their repatriation, they reached out to Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao seeking rehabilitation either by giving them jobs in any non-governmental organisation or by providing subsidised bank loans. However, no action has been taken so far.

A worker who has filed the RTI said, "We all got into debt as we went to the Gulf. Now, most of us are below the poverty line or landless. Financiers are also after us. We hope the government will soon rehabilitate us.”

The RTI application which was addressed to the Public Information Officer of the Chief Secretary of the state government said, “102 returnee migrant workers from Saudi Arabia along with me submitted a memorandum to Hon’ble Chief Minister of Telangana seeking financial help and rehabilitation on 16.07.2019. Please provide me file notings and 'action taken' report on this application along with your reply.”

Mandha Bheem Reddy, President, Emigrants Welfare Forum, said, "There should be a permanent return and rehabilitation policy for Gulf returnees. Rehabilitation and reintegration are the responsibility of the state government. Yearly budgetary allocations for the same are also needed.”

The northern part of Telangana which has Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad districts, has a high number of such cases. Activists estimate that at least 10,000 people are travelling to Gulf countries in search of employment every year from Hyderabad airport alone.

 
Crime
A flag-pole of the YSRCP party which the children were playing with, came loose and touched an overhead electric wire.
  • Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 19:44
The spot in Koppara village where the incident happened

In a tragic incident, three children were electrocuted to death in Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday as a YSRCP flag-pole which they were playing with, ended up falling on electric wires in Koppara village of Prakasam district. The incident happened soon after the children had come out from a mosque after finishing morning prayers, according to local reports.

Speaking to TNM, Prakasam District Superintendent Engineer of Andhra Pradesh Southern Power Distribution Company Limited (APSPDCL) Subba Raju, said that the incident was unfortunate.

"Five children were playing around with the flag-pole of a political party which was not fixed to the ground either with bolts or with cement as is usually the case. The children tried to lift it from where it was set, and as a result they managed to pull it out and lost their balance. The pole fell on an electric wire overhead, which immediately led to the deaths of three children. The other two escaped as they let go of the pole immediately," he said. 

He added, "The officials concerned have already reached the spot and are ascertaining the reason behind the mishap."

The Santamaguluru police have registered a case and further investigation is underway. The deceased children were identified as Sheikh Pathan Ghouse, Sheikh Hasan, and Pathan Amar. All three children were 11 years old and Class 5 students  in a local school.

Over the last six months, as many as 8 deaths due to electrocution have been reported in the state, as the electrical fences in agricultural fields turned into death traps for the farmers.

Most often, farmers are getting electrocuted when they come in contact with live wires while switching on or operating their bore well motors.

Speaking to TNM, N Sreenivasulu, the superintendent engineer (SE) for Kadapa said, "These accidents, be it domestic or outside, are taking place due to lack of knowledge or negligence when it comes to dealing with electricity wires or material. In the case of farmers, there are also several cases where electric traps and fences have been set up to safeguard crops from wild animals. People or animals who are not aware of the electric fence are also falling prey to this."

Electricity officials state that the lack of safety measures and precariously hanging electric material or lines, is resulting in such disasters.

Speaking about the deaths of the children, Subba Raju, the Praksam SE, said, "Awareness drives are being conducted through different means. Citizens should also see how their actions can lead to mishaps. In this case, people who erected the pole should have made sure that the pole was fixed with cement."

He added that they are filing criminal cases against people who set up electric fences without permission, which are leading to deaths or accidents.

Officials have also advised farmers and citizens to avoid using substandard electric material or wires which can compromise safety.

 

 
Environment
From affecting wildlife to threatening Chenchu tribes, this is what India’s nuclear power goals can do to Telangana’s Nallamala forest.
  • Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 17:06
All images: Charan Teja

There is a clear difference in the surroundings as one approaches the Nallamala forest in Nagarkurnool Telangana; the breeze is cooler, and the lush greenery takes over both sides of the road. Seated in the heart of the gigantic forest is the Amrabad Tiger Reserve, one of the biggest in the country.

Nallamala forest is spread across five districts in Andhra Pradesh and two erstwhile districts in Telangana – Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda. The forest may soon face what is being dubbed as an environmental catastrophe by activists. The Forest Advisory Committee under the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change recently recommended an 'in-principle' approval to the Department of Atomic Energy for survey and exploration of uranium over 83 square kilometres in as many as four blocks.

Primary arrangements for exploration are underway, signified by certain markings that have come up in various areas in the forest's core, say local residents. And while there’s uncertainty about exactly what is in store for Nallamala, there is definite fear. Many people say they feel threatened as they read reports of uranium exploration in their neighborhood.

Fear on the ground

TNM visited a few villages in Amrabad and Padara mandals and the local residents say they knew that something big was about to happen. In Udimilla of Amrabad, which has around 600 families from tribal and other communities, people are struggling to comprehend what exactly is happening.

Their understanding of uranium and nuclear power is raw and crude. Remarking that he was aware that the substance could be used to make bombs, a 65-year-old man remarks, "We will lose everything. This forest and trees, everything will go. Instead of all that happening, it is better that they bomb us."

B Nanuk, a woman in her late 50s, is wary of strangers, and says, "As of now nothing has been said to us, but we hear that the government wants to set up a (uranium) plant in the forests. This should not be done if they want us to be alive." 

The exploration in the region has particularly triggered concerns about the Chenchus, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in Telangana, who already are witnessing a decline in their population. According to the 2011 Census, their population is 16,912. Most of them reside deep in the Nallamala forest.

It was only recently that 60-year-old Udathala Bayyanna, a Chenchu, got a 'pakka' house at Maddimadugu, the last village in the forest which has motorable roads, thanks to help from an NGO. Maddimadugu is also a temple village known for a huge footprint of devotees from across the state. "How can we survive if they come and establish a plant here?" he asks.

This is a common perception among many, as they point out that the search for uranium could pave the way for further damage to their livelihood. Udatala Anjamma, the Sarpanch of Maddimadugu, who is also a Chenchu, says, "We will ask Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) officials to take measures that will prevent destruction in the name of plant." Anjamma, who is in her mid 20s, adds, "We demand that this should be stopped at any cost," fearing that the move will certainly pose a threat to the very existence of the community. 

Seventy-eight-year-old V Fakeerappa says, "At least 40 human settlements may vanish or be affected by the project. Won't those chemical discharges that flow into the Krishna river, which is being used for drinking and irrigation purpose by several lakh people, also be affected?"

Fakeerappa says that the government should understand their concerns about the future and withdraw the project – something that environmentalists and activists alike are also iterating. 

Human rights activists stage a protest in Amrabad

What the proposal says

While the proposal has been under consideration for a while now, things began moving in May this year, when the in-principle approval was granted. The approval was sought by the Department of Atomic Energy, which said that the country is need of locating and using uranium deposits at a greater rate, to achieve the target of producing 40,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2030 – a goal set by the Union government. 

The government says that the process of nuclear power generation will be beneficial in the long run, but environmentalists say that the mining of radioactive substances like uranium is often known to contaminate the local environment. 

In its application for clearance, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) noted that it needed to find 'economically feasible, high-grade deposits' of Uranium to meet its goal. "Review of all areas of ongoing investigation and assessment indicates that northern part of Cuddapah basin in Telangana is the most promising and potential area in the country for locating high grade, large tonnage uranium deposits," the DAE said.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) in its approval noted that there were 'certain deficiencies' in the proposal. However, it also noted that the proposal is of ‘critical importance from a national perspective'. 

The application also claimed that the number of families and adivasis being displaced, would be NIL, a claim that activists and locals deny.

Threat to wildlife

The proposal has not been without controversy and dissent.

While the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) was in favour of the project's approval, barring a few conditions, a scathing report by Field Director, Amrabad Tiger Reserve Circle in June 2016, said that the survey and exploration project could threaten wildlife like panthers, sloth bears, wild dogs, spotted deer, wild boars and tigers.

"The flora and fauna will be adversely affected and a lot of disturbance will be caused for wildlife if exploration takes place. This will also cause fragmentation and add to the disturbance to the Tiger Reserve," the report said. 

The report also stated that the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act, 2006, would not allow ecologically unsustainable projects in a protected tiger reserve, 'except in public interest' with the approval of the National Board for Wildlife and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). TNM has reached out to the NTCA and is yet to receive a response. 

The report has also highlighted that the impact includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, damage to biodiversity and contamination of ground and surface waters.

While the government has claimed in the past that the exploration would be 'non-invasive', the report by the Field Director noted that the DAE has proposed to dig as many as 4,000 bores as part of the exploration process, which may require heavy machinery to be deployed deep within the forests. The report also noted that the "disturbance for the habitat will be immense even for the exploration purpose."

Activists point out that the proposal would violate Constitutional safeguards meant for protection and strengthening of forest ecosystem along with Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which assures the protection of interests of tribal people.

According to the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA government has to inform and consent of the villagers through Grama Sabhas before taking up any development project. However, locals told TNM that they were unaware of what was happening. 

Dr Palla Trinadha Rao, a lawyer and tribal rights activist said, “As per provisions in PESA, the concerned Grama Sabha should know what is happening in their land, if they are affected by the said project or proposal. Even a linear project should get consent of Gram Sabha as per a recent ruling of the Hyderabad High Court.”

Water contamination concerns

Environmentalists warn that mining for uranium would deplete the springs and rivulets of the Krishna river, which cuts through the reserve forest. 

The Human Rights Forum's nine-member committee following its visit to Amrabad and Padara, observed in a statement, "Mining for uranium would deplete the springs and rivulets and will poison the land. Both the Nallavagu and Dindi rivers which flow into the Krishna river, cut through this protected tiger reserve. The exploration and mining will invariably pollute both surface and groundwater in the river’s watershed."

"Due to the very nature of uranium mining, inflows into the river will be contaminated with truly frightening implications for Nagarjuna reservoir. Residents of Hyderabad as well as those in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh relying on the waters of the river will have to bear the consequences," the report said, while urging the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments to reject the proposal.

Dr K Babu Rao, a retired senior scientist from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) and a member of HRF said, "Countries which have witnessed uranium mining are also seeing its disastrous consequences and are currently restraining. The hazardous chemical discharges will result in huge damage to environmental ecology and human life."

The locals of the region now plan to up the ante, as they have formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC) against uranium mining in Nallamala. The JAC’s Chairman, Nasaraiah, alleges that the Telangana government has deceived the people by allowing the survey and uranium exploration. 

"The Union government must withdraw the approvals for uranium establishments explorations, as going ahead with this will disturb the forest ecology and wildlife, along with rich heritage and cultures that are unique to Nallamala," he says

He further says that any advancement towards materialization Uranium mining would pose a severe threat to the indigenous Chenchu tribes, whose habitat is Nallamala forest.

With JAC now pitching up a fight demanding for withdrawal of the "in-principle approval" for the survey and Uranium exploration, a struggle is brewing against the government.

TNM has also reached out to the Director, Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, DAE and is awaiting a response. 

Protest
"The acceptance of such an invitation would be a betrayal and insult to the resistance of our fellow Kashmiris who have been denied their basic human rights," JKSA said.
  • Sunday, August 11, 2019 - 18:24

Days after the Jammu and Kashmir Governor reportedly sanctioned Rs 1 lakh each to designated liaison officers for organising Eid festivities for Kashmiri students who are studying in other states, students from University of Hyderabad  have expressed their dismay and rejected the government's invitation to lunch. 

Following the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 (A) by BJP-led government, and amidst the communication block out in J&K, there are reports of several protests in the region with hundreds of people hitting the streets.

Jammu and Kashmir Students' Association (JKSA) of University of Hyderabad issued a statement in response to an invitation for Eid lunch from a Government of India liaison officer. The students said that the invitation was conveyed through DSW's (Dean Students Welfare) office to them.

In a strongly worded statement, the students said, "We would like to take this opportunity to register our protest against the onslaught on J&K's special status and the clampdown of all communication channels in the Valley."

While condemning the curfew and alleged use of brute force to silence Kashmiris, JKSA expressed its support and solidarity with Kashmiris who have been "caged and put under siege" by the government of India.

The student body said that it is rejecting the invitation unanimously. It has also termed the invitation as an attempt to consolidate Kashmiri students. The JKSA maintained "the acceptance of such an invitation would be a betrayal and insult to the resistance of our fellow Kashmiris who have been denied their basic human rights."

TNM has contacted university authorities to know if the Eid lunch programme will be held or stand cancelled. Professor Vinod Pavarala, spokesperson of  University of Hyderabad said “An Eid lunch invitation was sent to the students. When the DSW contacted the students informally, he was told that they were already prepared for the annual Eid lunch and they the Liaison Officer concerned could join them in the lunch instead of organising another one. It is for the Liaison Officer to take a call on that. The University has no comments to offer on the statement apparently put out by the J&K Students Association on social media rejecting the invitation.”

Flood
According to officials, 31 fishermen including nine women, were stuck on the upper stream of the cofferdam due to flash floods.
  • Friday, August 09, 2019 - 17:07

In a dramatic rescue, as many as 31 fishermen who were stuck in Andhra Pradesh's West Godavari district were shifted to safety by the Indian Navy and disaster management authorities on Friday, after they got stranded due to a flash flood. 

The relentless rains in coastal Andhra Pradesh have resulted in flash floods close to the banks of the Godavari river over the past week. According to officials, 31 fishermen including nine women, were stuck on the upper stream of the cofferdam of the Polavaram project.

The fishermen, reportedly hailing from Kunavaram mandal, were out for fishing on Thursday. As the water level rose, their boats got swept away. All of them managed to reach the cofferdam of Polavaram for safety but were stranded as they were surrounded by gushing water on all sides.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and local authorities reached the spot and an Indian Navy helicopter from Visakhapatnam was tasked with airlifting the fishermen.

A statement from the state disaster management authority said, "The chopper reached the site and has begun airlifting. State Emergency Control Centre is coordinating with ground level officials of Irrigation, Revenue and Fire Departments besides SDRF (state disaster response force) and NDRF teams."

Speaking to TNM, West Godavari SP Navadeep Singh said, "Nine women were airlifted while the remaining men were rescued through boats by NDRF and SDRF forces, all of them are safe."

According to the SP, the rescued people are being sent to their native places.

Disaster management officials have also warned fishermen from going into the sea, given the prevalence of floods in the region.

As many as 60 NDRF and 156 SDRF personnel have been deployed at different locations in East Godavari along with 111 personnel from the Fire Services department. Meanwhile, 30 NDRF, 69 SDRF and 49 Fire Services personnel have been deployed in West Godavari district.

As per the latest report, the water level at Dowleswaram barrage continues to rise and is presently at the second warning level. If the rains continue, officials expect that the water may reach the third warning level by Friday night.

Andhra Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on Thursday conducted an aerial survey of the flood-affected areas and held a review meeting with ministers and officials concerned in Rajahmundry. The state government said that the floods have affected thousands of people in the Godavari basin and about 19,000 have been evacuated from low-lying areas and shifted to relief camps.

 

Read: Andhra CM Jagan conducts aerial survey of flood-hit areas along Godavari