NitinBGoode

Immigration
As more than 100 students, mostly from Telangana and Andhra, were detained, Telugu associations in the US rose to the occasion.
  • Friday, February 15, 2019 - 15:01
Image for representation

In the early hours of January 30, officials from the US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began conducting a massive ‘raid’ on foreign students as part of a sting operation that had been planned for months.

As news of the raids trickled in, Parmesh Bheemreddy, president of the American Telugu Association, started receiving multiple panicked phone calls. “So many people started calling. Friends and family and so many others who had heard of someone being taken in. People didn’t know what to do and were frantically searching for someone to help. That’s how we came to know about the issue,” he recounts.

Homeland Security officials had created a fake university in Michigan, by the name of University of Farmington, with the aim of trapping recruiters and immigrants believed to be illegally extending their stay in America on the pretext of being students. Hundreds of students had enrolled in the university.

The ‘raids’ began on January 30, as early as 4.30 am, throughout the country. Around 146 foreign students of Indian origin, a majority of whom hailed from Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, were detained by officials as a part of the undercover operation termed ‘Paper Chase.’

Taking stock

Within hours, officials from US-based Telugu organisations were overwhelmed with calls from those seeking help. Many such associations were quickly able to step in and help students.

“At first we were just shocked and trying to assess the situation. We had no idea where those who’d been detained were kept and we couldn’t track them,” says Parmesh, adding, “The biggest challenge for us was to figure out exactly how many students had been detained.”

Data from 2016 has shown that students from Andhra and Telangana account for a large chunk of Indians enrolled in US universities and institutes of higher learning. Telugu immigrants also make up a high percentage of students who work in the computer, software and IT sector after graduating from American universities. According to reports from 2018, it was estimated that nearly 17% of foreign students in the US hail from the Telugu speaking states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India.

As the associations undertook efforts to find out how many students were taken in, phone calls were also made simultaneously to immigration attorneys.

“We wanted to know what steps other students in a similar situation should take. What about those on an H-1B? Did anything need to be done? So, we ended up talking to several lawyers and we held seminars for students so that they’d know what to do,” Parmesh says.

A webinar titled 'University of Farmington ICE Issue : Effect on F-1 CPT Employment' was organised by ATA to inform students of their options and what to do if they were approached by officers.

“At the same time, we needed to figure out how many students were taken in, so we began collecting data. With the help of the consulates, we began visiting local detention centres. Attorneys helped us get through to the students and get the information of their local guardians, relatives or friends. Bail bonds were arranged for those who were able to get them. For some people we had ATA members themselves step in to help. A few other lawyers spoke to ICE officers to see what could be done,” says Parmesh.

ICE didn’t provide an exact number of those who had been raided and said around 146 students were detained. However, Parmesh says that number may have been inaccurate.

Providing legal support

It was only after associations like Telugu Association of North America (TANA) and ATA stepped in that students were able to meet attorneys, who gave them advice on what to do and what to expect.

Ganesh* a detainee who hails from Andhra Pradesh, told TNM that, “It was only after the attorneys came to the detention centre that I was able to get out. They spoke to the officials concerned and explained that I wanted to leave the country, voluntarily. I was advised to speak to ICE officers and said the same to them, and eventually I was permitted to leave on a bail bond.”

Sai Kiran*, who was also detained and is currently out on bail bond, stresses that the Telugu associations were able to quickly coordinate with local and federal government officials to ensure that at least a few students were released, even if on bail.

“Several of us have been advised by the attorneys provided by TANA and ATA members to just tell the judge that we want to leave, when our hearing date comes out,” he adds.

But the students, even if awaiting their hearing dates, might be stuck in the detention centres for a while.

“The deportation and removal process is an enormously laborious one. It might take months or even years. In order for this to move along much more quickly and efficiently, the Ministry of External Affairs in India needs to be putting more pressure on the American government,” Parmesh explains.

“The Indian Embassy here in the US as well as all our Indian diplomats have exhausted all their venues and resources. Unless MEA and Sushma Swaraj really step in, those 100-something students still being detained will have to wait for however long the US government’s system takes,” he adds.

Representing their case

The associations involved also immediately set up appointments with senior officials and politicians in the United States to present their cases.

While an ATA team met with Indian Ambassador Harshvardhan Shingla, Jay Talluri, the executive vice-president of TANA had said that they met Sandeep Chakravarthy, the Indian Consulate General in New York and submitted a memorandum to make a request to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorities.

Many also met with Elissa Slotkin, the US Representative for Michigan's 8th Congressional district. Slotkin issued a carefully-worded letter to the Indian American community in the US voicing support for the students.

“It is our understanding that these students were not aware that the university in which they had enrolled was fraudulent, and their only mistake was to misunderstand a foreign work-study program in their pursuit of higher education and career ambition. Indeed, they are not being criminally charged,” she wrote.

Back home

Meanwhile, associations in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have also swung into action.

Speaking to TNM, Dr Rajkumar, president of the Telangana NRI Parents Association, said, “We also received several distress calls from parents who were worried about their children. We immediately made calls to immigration attorneys from the two states who were based in the US and asked them to take up these cases. Many of them agreed to do it without taking any legal fees.”

Rajkumar says that the next logical step for them was lobbying with politicians in India, to put more pressure on the US government.

“We rushed to KT Rama Rao (the former NRI affairs Minister in Telangana) and made our case to him. He gave us an assurance that he was already looking into the issue. We also met with US Consul General in Hyderabad, Katherine B Hadda. We also wrote to Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj,” he adds.

While some students have slowly started returning to Hyderabad thanks to the work of several associations and attorneys, many have experienced the trauma of being detained and, in some cases, have returned with a large amount of student debt hanging over them.

“The American dream is long dead,” says an infuriated Rajkumar, adding, “Once more students return, we are planning to hold an event with them and the parents in Hyderabad, and counsel them on alternate countries we can look at for education and for jobs. We don’t want to or need to look at America as an option anymore; not after the way in which they have treated our children.”

Also Read:

'American dreams have collapsed' : Indian student detained in US recounts ordeal

Hundreds of Indians face deportation, arrest in US fake university sting operation

US fake university row: How to check if your college is real and accredited?

*Names changed

Environment
The Osmansagar and Himayatsagar were built to protect Hyderabad from flooding and also provide drinking water to its citizens. Yet encroachments and apathy from the government threatens their future viability as major water sources.
  • Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 15:50
All images: Nitin B

On the morning of September 29, 1908, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mehboob Ali Khan stepped out into the streets of the city to witness the destruction of the worst flood in the history of Hyderabad. The water had receded to reveal thousands of human bodies and animal carcasses. At least 4,000 people had died and 2 lakh people were affected, many of them left homeless with all their belongings washed away.

The ruler of Hyderabad broke down in full public view at what he saw.

It was also the very same floods that left him determined that the city should never face such a situation ever again. Hyderabad, he thought, should be ‘flood-proofed.’

“At that time, the Nizam of Hyderabad was worried and he invited noted engineer M. Visvesvaraya. In 1909, he submitted a report which recommended that the two reservoirs be built at the outskirts of the city," narrates professor K Purushotham Reddy, a well-known activist, who used to head the Department of Political Science in Osmania University.

The first reservoir - The Osmansagar - was built on the Musi river on the outskirts of the city in 1920. While Mir Mehboob Ali Khan passed away, his successor, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan inaugurated the Osmansagar. In 1927, the second reservoir, Himayatsagar, was built on Esa, a tributary of the Musi.

The two reservoirs would then go on to supply drinking water to all citizens of Hyderabad until the late 90s and early 2000s. But in the years since, multiple structures have sprung up around the reservoirs, threatening their future use as water sources.

What’s more, the state government is set to pave the way for further real estate development in the area, and the water bodies that once served as a lifeline to the city are now under threat of vanishing.   

"All that will remain is the name. There will be no water," Purushotham says.

Rivers or reservoirs? The water Hyderabad drinks

"The reservoirs were built for flood control, but also to provide drinking water to the growing city of Hyderabad. For more than 70 years, Osmansagar was the main drinking water source for the city," says Purushotham. “The Nizam of Hyderabad had issued a 'firman' (royal decree) that in the catchment area of the two reservoirs, any activity which pollutes or obstructs the flow of water to these reservoirs was banned.”

During the time of construction, both reservoirs had a storage capacity of about 4 TMC with Osmansagar spread over 22 sq km and Himayatsagar spread over 21 sq km. However, the encroachments have resulted in drastic reduction in the storage capacity of the water bodies.

As the state continues to draw water from the Krishna and Godavari rivers, while scaling up supply from the latter, activists fear that the government is failing to consider the rivers’ future viability. "They are not taking into account that the flow in the river Krishna has been coming down each year and water levels in the Nagarjunasagar dam are depleting further annually," Purushotham says.

Already, there have been reported incidents where Hyderabad’s water sources have reportedly left taps dry throughout the city, either due to receding water levels in reservoirs or maintenance over leakages in pipelines that supply Krishna and Godavari water.

Meanwhile, Purushotham points out that the two naturally-replenishing reservoirs may soon vanish completely, citing 'Masab Tank' and 'Nallakunta' in Hyderabad as examples. “At such a time, it is crucial to understand that we have to save our water sources instead of destroying them further.”

A government order, defied

In 1996, under the tenure of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Government Order (GO) 111 was issued, as the reservoirs provided drinking water to the city and there was a need for strict regulation to ensure that it was not polluted.

The GO "prohibits industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of Himayatsagar and Osmansagar, up to 10 km from the full tank level (FTL) of the lakes."

However, since the beginning, there have been attempts to flout the norms. One such incident was related to a company which attempted to set up a factory within the 10-km radius of the two reservoirs and even got an exemption from GO 111 from the state government. The case went to the High Court and later even to the Supreme Court.

On December 1, 2000, in a judgement titled 'A.P. Pollution Board Vs. Prof. M.V. Nayudu', the Supreme Court said, "When such a prohibition was in force, the State Government could not obviously grant any exemption to a specified industry like the seventh respondent, located within the 'area.' Nor was it permissible for the State to direct the appellant-Board to prescribe conditions for grant of No-Objection Certificate (NOC).... Government could not pass such orders of exemption having dangerous potential, unmindful of the fate of lakhs of citizens of the twin cities to whom drinking water is supplied from these lakes. Such an order of exemption carelessly passed, ignoring the 'precautionary principle' could be catastrophic.” (sic)  

Encroachments galore

"The situation is criminal. Several encroachments are within the Full Tank Level (FTL) itself. The government including the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) is well aware of the structures. There are encroachments that can be spotted with Google maps. We have pointed out several such structures to the authorities but they continue to sit on the information and refuse to act," says Dr Lubna Sarwath, from Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL).

One of the latest cases which Lubna has taken up, is a 'Sports Village' which has come up around Osmansagar's FTL, referring to the maximum amount of water that the reservoir can hold when full to the brim. Armed with satellite imagery, she notified the authorities but to no avail.

Satellite images from 2010, 2011 and 2018

In 2017, activists also pointed out that a road was constructed by the state government in Osmansagar's FTL, allegedly violating norms, near Khanapur village.

"How can the state, in such a brazen act, construct a road within the FTL? When you cut across the FTL of any water body, the small side which gets left out becomes land permanently," Lubna says.

"It has become almost difficult to name encroachers individually who fall within the 10 km radius. Lots of engineering and medical colleges have come up. One resort that came up in the catchment area of Osmansagar even blocked one of the inflow channels and all its effluents are discharged into the water. Many residential layouts have come up as well," says Captain J Rama Rao, one of the city's most noted environmentalists.

Activists allege that a lot of inflow channels were encroached, which was resulting in shrinking of the reservoirs.

"There is a HC directive that no permission should be granted for constructions but it is openly being flouted. Even the government has built the Telangana State Police Academy. The government is also one of the main culprits," the 89-year-old environmentalist adds.

In 2008, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had also noted after a study that “indiscriminate constructions had resulted in reduction of storage in the lakes,” recommending that “a comprehensive watershed development program has to be planned without endangering existing sustainable water supply sources to urban areas in the future.”

A growing desire for development

On the ground, locals say that they have issues with GO 111, especially the curb on construction of new structures. They claim that due to the GO, the permission to construct buildings on their own land is often denied.

"We are stuck with Outer Ring Road on one side and the reservoir on the other. What can we do? If we want to construct something new, they are citing 111. The population here has grown but the authorities have not caught up, where their policies are concerned," says Bhim, a local at Khanapur village, abutting Osmansagar.

“In all the neighbouring villages where GO 111 is not in place, they are able to grow and develop, but we are stuck in time almost, because of the rule,” he adds.

Speaking to TNM, Narasimha, the sarpanch of Khanapur says, "We don't get permission for construction. The locals say that if they even give a slight exemption to construct residential structures in their own plots, they will be satisfied. Many feel that GO 111 can either be scrapped completely and more tourism can be promoted at the two reservoirs, or apply GO 111 only where the survey numbers of the water body flows and drop the 10-km rule."

Scrapping GO 111

There has been a growing chorus to cancel the GO and activists have been protesting against it for years now. The land outside the 10-km radius has already been taken over by towering skyscrapers and plush residential outlets.

If scrapped, the locals who have been holding on to their land deeds hope that their land prices will shoot up as well and they can get rich overnight by selling it off to real estate companies. Activists on the other hand, warn that it would sound the death knell for the reservoirs.

"For the last 10 years, political parties have been toying with the idea of GO 111. There are two factors where locals are concerned as well. The local small farmers are not ready to sell their land because they don't know any other livelihood than agriculture. The soil is alluvial which lets them grow beetroot, carrot and several other delicacies and vegetables and produce excellent crop. If they sell this land, where will they go? They are not demanding GO 111 be abolished," Purushotham Reddy says.  

"It is the greedy real estate lobby which is in cahoots with politicians. They know that if GO 111 is scrapped, the land values will shoot up. The vested interests are creating an argument that there is no use for these two reservoirs," he adds.

Last year, the Telangana government informed the Hyderabad High Court that GO 111 was 'redundant' as the two reservoirs no longer provided drinking water to the city. Additional advocate general, J Ramachandra Rao also said that the state government would still ensure that the water bodies were preserved, if permission was granted to construct within the 10-km radius.

While campaigning for the Chevella MLA Kale Yadaiah, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) President and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said on December 1, "I promise you. It has become a curse to the people who live here. They are no longer needed for drinking water. GO 111 should be scrapped. I am promising as your bidda (child). Everyone is getting several crore rupees for their land. You should also reap the same benefits. Within six months of the TRS government coming to power, we will scrap GO 111. That is my promise to you."

The pipelines that once supplied water to the city

An uncertain future

"I don't see any hope. The state government is bent upon scrapping the GO,” says Rama Rao, the environmentalist, adding that nothing has changed even though cases have been going on since 2000.

“They appointed a committee to give a report on this with clear instructions to say that these two reservoirs are no longer needed to supply drinking water to Hyderabad. If this happens and they are able to denotify Osmansagar and Himayatsagar, then Supreme Court judgement won't stand because it declared that drinking water sources should be protected. That's what is ultimately going to happen. Next year, Osmansagar will be a hundred years old. The situation is regretful," he says.  

And it isn’t just the government who is at fault. Citizens, Rama Rao noted, should be blamed as well. He adds, “The average Hyderabadi doesn't care as long as they not personally affected. But they are not seeking to ensure that their children inherit a good environment.”

 

 

Healthcare
Lack of roads forces pregnant women to trek to the nearest motorable road by foot, with the result that Maternal Mortality Rate is shockingly high in this region.
  • Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 15:25
All images: Nitin B and Shilpa Ranipeta

It has been less than three months since Vanthala Pramila was forced to deliver her baby on the hill adjoining her hamlet of Y Gonthupally, a remote settlement in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam district.

The small hamlet of Y Gonthupally is a 25-km ride from the nearest town of Chinthapalle and a 2-km trek on foot across a mountain from the nearest motorable road. Set in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh’s tribal region, for locals to access even the basic facility of a motorable road requires trekking through a rocky terrain.

When Pramila went into labour, locals had to make a makeshift stretcher with sticks and pieces of cloth to carry her to an ambulance. But she was forced to deliver on the way. And all she had for help was from K Susheela, a community health worker under the government’s Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) scheme.

While Pramila’s situation may seem shocking, this is a common ordeal for women in the Agency area which covers parts of Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram district near the Andhra-Odisha border.

Holding her 3-month old infant in her arms, Pramila says that a proper road would have ensured that she would have got the most basic maternal healthcare facilities required during a delivery.

Susheela, who is the ASHA worker for the hamlet, agrees. “Whether it is a pregnant woman or even someone who is down with fever, it is very difficult to take them to a hospital. It’s very difficult without a road. Walking is tough, it is a ghat and the terrain is full of rocks.”


Susheela and Pramila

Painful ordeal for pregnant women

In September last year, a group of adivasis belonging to Maasika Valasachintala, a hilltop hamlet with no road connectivity in Vizianagaram district, decided to document their ordeal on camera. 24-year-old Mutthaiama was forced to deliver her baby on a treacherous dirt path while being carried on a handmade stretcher.

A relative of the woman is seen saying in the video, “This is the situation we are in and this is how things are. No one cares for us and even at the time of death, we don’t know where to go and whom to approach. Please see this video and do something to help us... look at her, she is delivering on the way only. Our life and death is on the road only. Though we have been telling our elders and higher authorities, things haven’t changed.” 

A resident of the village, which only has a path for two-wheelers, told TNM that they were pulled up by authorities for circulating the video to the media, and refused to comment further. 


Screenshot from the video

This hamlet and Y Gonthupally, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Locals point out that there are several hamlets, nestled deep in the hills, some of which require at least 4-5 hours of trekking to reach. For the women living in these hamlets, dealing with pregnancy turns into a nightmare, with most of them delivering babies within their homes. And for them, change is still far away. A testament to this ordeal is data suggesting that the state of maternal healthcare in the tribal belt is dismal.

One too many deaths

There are two indicators as far as maternal healthcare of a region is concerned – Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR). MMR is defined by the government as the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births while IMR is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. 

According to the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) office at Paderu town, the MMR under its jurisdiction for 2018 up to January 2019 was 204. This is shocking when compared to Andhra Pradesh’s rate between 2014 to 16, which stands at 74 or India’s rate which stands at 130. Officials seem to have been able to maintain a better standard when it comes to the IMR – 305 infants have died between 2018 and January 2019 compared to the 2017-2018 figure of 370.

Government support for expectant moms

Sandhya Kumari is seven months pregnant and has come down to the village of Gudem, where the motorable road ends, close to GK Veedhi, the mandal headquarters. The closest road from the hamlet she comes from is around 30 km, she says, after which only two-wheelers can go. Either way, a 5-km walk is unavoidable.

“Even when pregnant, we walk and come since it is difficult for a vehicle to reach us, we have no choice. Just going to the hospital or even to visit a health centre for a basic check-up, we have to travel very far,” she says.

Sandhya is one of the more fortunate mothers-to-be as her maternal home is in Gudem, where an ambulance can reach and where she can safely deliver her child before heading back to her hamlet.


Sandhya

As far as ensuring safe deliveries in concerned, the state government relies on two things, ASHA workers and Auxillary Nurse Midwives (ANMs).

While ASHA workers are picked from the same villages, ANMs are more trained at handling such cases. The government has insisted that deliveries should happen only in a healthcare facility and while both these groups are working towards the goal, it remains a formidable challenge.

This is because some ANMs are in charge of at least 25 to 30 hamlets and can manage to visit each hamlet only once or twice a month.

Apart from providing ASHA workers and ANMs, on the 9th of every month, women in the region are asked to assemble at different points from where they can be picked up and brought together either to an anganwadi centre or another government building for a check-up.

“We inform them in advance to come to one place. From there, we take them to the hospital in an ambulance once a month. Despite that, we can drop the mother only to a certain point. Even after they deliver their child, they need to trek back to reach their homes,” says K Kameswari, who is the ANM for 31 villages in the GK Veedhi region.

Kameswari also points out that a major part of her job is to ensure and convince women to come to the health centre and take the medicines prescribed to them.


K Kameswari, ANM for 31 villages in GK Veedhi region

“We have been telling authorities for a long time that we are struggling without a road and that it is difficult, but they insist that the deliveries should take place in the hospital and that the women should be brought two to three days before delivery. But how is that possible when it takes hours when you call an ambulance and when even basic roads aren’t there?” she asks.

A social issue

The ASHA workers and ANMs state that locals are reluctant to travel to the nearest hospital and admit themselves a few days in advance as the government wants them to, because they do not want to lose their daily wages.

“Let’s say we go from here. Then there will be no one to work at home. If we go, we need to stay for 2-3 days or even a week, which leaves no one here to earn a livelihood. That is why many don’t want to go,” Susheela explains.

Dr Hemalatha, the Superintendent of Victoria General Hospital (VGH) in Visakhapatnam, points out that the problem is a social one. “In most cases, the women are illiterate and so are the husbands. They may already have one or two children. How can one expect her to leave all that and get admitted? They are not willing to do so because it is difficult to manage. If a patient comes, her husband will have to accompany her. If it’s a delivery case, one female assistant, generally a close relative, will also have to come as men aren’t allowed into the ward. There is also a fear as to how uneducated persons like them can come to the town and stay,” she explains.

According to DK Balaji, Project Officer ITDA, Paderu, the most important reason is a lack of awareness among the tribal women, with many getting married very early and expecting a second or third child by the age of 19 or 20.

“Even the ASHA workers in the area are picked from the same region. Their awareness levels are also quite low. Though we constantly give them training, they still need to rise to the occasion in most of the cases in interior areas. We do conduct a lot of awareness camps, but more work needs to be done,” he adds.

Lack of awareness also results in expectant mothers not taking the kind of care pregnancy requires.

“As far the cases from Agency areas are concerned, many are anaemic, because variety in diet may not be an option. In the interior villages, they eat only one type of food daily. As a result, they have iron deficiency anaemia or even sickle cell anaemia. We also get cases where patients have high blood pressure. Many women are also multigravida, which means they are pregnant for the third or fourth time,” says Dr K Hemalatha.


Dr Hemalatha, Superintendent, Victoria General Hospital (VGH)

“Generally, these women come to us at a late stage. By then, septicaemia (a blood infection) would have affected them or the foetus would have died in the womb or they would have got fits because their BP is high. If delivery has already happened, many come to us in shock after heavy bleeding,” she adds.

Lack of gynaecologists

Even while authorities insist that women get admitted in advance, the hospitals themselves aren’t equipped to handle all pregnancy cases. Until recently, a local hospital in Chinthapalle had shortage of beds and staff, with two patients having to share one bed in some cases.

“There is a hospital in the region but there are no gynaecologists. The doctors conduct as many deliveries as possible or refer cases to hospitals outside the area. If there are gynaecologists in these areas, it will help the region. The closest town outside the ghats is Narsipatnam, which is 50 km away, or Visakhapatnam, which is 150 km away,” says Devudamma, the ex-sarpanch of Chinthapalle.

While acknowledging the government’s monthly check-ups, Devudamma says, “Doctors do come from Vizag once a month, but how many people can they check? If there is a resident doctor, the adivasis here will also get more confidence in the system. They will also want to know updates on their child.”

Dr Hemalatha points out that it takes at least 2-3 hours for an expectant mother to reach the closest Community Health Centre (CHC). If it a high-risk case, they are referred to Vizag, which includes another journey of around 4-5 hours. “Within this time, if there is a case with high bleeding or obstructed labour, we may lose the mother,” she explains.


Chinthapalle town

One possible solution for this, according to Dr Hemalatha, is having a gynaecologist and an anaesthetist and a blood bank facility in the CHCs. Constructing a maternity hospital or a medical college in Araku or Paderu would also go a long way in improving the situation, she adds.

Government hopeful

Despite the challenges, the government says it is hopeful. There are several incentives for expectant mothers, such as the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana through which a woman gets Rs 6,000 for her first delivery, right from pregnancy until immunisation is done for the child.

Balaji also says that an audit review is done every time there is a maternal death to fix accountability. The ITDA, he says, is not only conducting awareness drives, but is also proactively incentivising expectant mothers and their husbands to rid them of the apprehensions of losing their daily wages.

“Our only objective is to ensure that maternal health improves and that every delivery takes place in the institution,” he says.

While these efforts are on, data suggests that the state of maternal healthcare continues to be dismal, especially for villages located deep inside the hills. With Y Gonthupally in the process of getting its first motorable road ever, tribal people continue to live in the hope of better facilities reaching them soon.

Health
Over the last two decades, the state’s Uddanam region has been gripped by a mysterious disease with no potential cure, ruining thousands of lives.
  • Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - 10:38
Bhima Rao

P Bairagi has many tales to tell. Once employed with the Indian Army, the 65-year-old talks about how he has served the country from ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari’ while working with the 8th Engineer Regiment and 62nd Field Company.

“I was even part of the team that helped erect the Buddha statue in the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad during Chief Minister N T Rama Rao’s tenure,” he narrates. 

All that, however, is in the past. Today, he gasps for breath when he speaks and his hands shake violently as he stretches his arms out to show the puncture marks caused during dialysis. 

“Both my kidneys are gone. Even if you swallow hundreds of tablets it doesn’t change. Dialysis helps. If that machine works, my life continues. They need to keep removing the water from my body since I can’t get it out any other way. I can’t even pass urine,” he says, sitting outside the Community Health Centre (CHC) in Sompeta in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district.


Bairagi (Right)

The state-run dialysis centre in Sompeta, tucked away behind the CHC, leaves a haunting imprint on one’s mind – a double door opens to reveal a packed room with several beds lined up on each side with patients. Doctors and nurses scurry about even as many writhe in pain caused during the process of dialysis.

The sight is similar at almost all state-run dialysis centres in the district’s Uddanam region, which has been gripped by a mysterious disease over the last two decades, with no potential cure.

Uddanam Nephropathy, is a chronic kidney disease, which has been affecting people in the mandals of Kaviti, Sompeta, Kanchili, Itchapuram, Palasa and Vajrapukotturu. Over thousands of people have been estimated to have succumbed to it over the years. No matter which village or town one visits in this area, locals can easily name several people they know suffering from the disease.


Dialysis centre in Sompeta

Locals say that the disease spares no one – both young and old have been diagnosed with it. With no cure, victims often just resign to their fate, waiting for an eventual death. 

“Water and salt are our enemy. If those levels increase, we can’t sit, stand or sleep. In 24 hours, we can only drink 1 litre of water. We even need to measure the water that goes into our tea. We can’t sleep. I can sleep today because dialysis has just happened. Again for the next few days, I can’t sleep. I used to be able to lift 120 kg. What’s the use now? I can’t even pluck a blade of grass,” Bairagi says, adding, “At least I’m an old man. What about the future of the young men and women and even children who get affected by this disease?”

What is Uddanam Nephropathy?

Nephropathy is a broad term used to describe kidney disease or damage that may lead to kidney failure. It is considered a progressive disease, which means that the kidneys are rendered less effective over time.

In Uddanam, the disease mysteriously began surfacing in the 1990s, affecting over 30,000 people in the area. While there are no unanimous figures available between officials and activists, it is estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 people have died due to the disease over the last two decades. The World Health Organization points out that this is one of the three regions in the world with the highest concentration of chronic kidney disease, after Sri Lanka and Nicaragua.

Despite this, the cause of the disease or a cure is yet to be scientifically established. 

A study by a group of researchers in 2011 found that “the presence of phenols and mercury in drinking water (in the region) was found to be very high... Phenols and mercury, being very toxic in their characteristic nature, are bio-accumulative. Hence these waters are found not suitable for potable purposes.” However, the study could not conclusively state that water was the sole reason for the prevalence of the disease.

In 2016, a study conducted by a central team from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) along with researchers of Harvard University,  Andhra Medical College, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and NTR University of Health Sciences pinpointed “excessive levels of silica in water” as the cause after a preliminary round of examination. The ICMR research, however, could not be pursued further due to a fund crunch.

Meanwhile, another two-member committee from Harvard University found evidence to suggest that genetic predisposition could be the reason for nephropathy. Either way, studies remain inconclusive and researchers continue to look for the exact cause of the disease.

While authorities point out that they have set up several dialysis centres and are even operating mobile units, locals and activists point out that this is just mitigation and addressing the issue will require conducting more detailed studies to ascertain the cause and cure of the nephropathy.

Speaking to TNM, Dr Jeeviteswara Rao Duvvada from the Uttrandhra Charcha Vedika, says, “The people who are presently undergoing treatment are just the tip of the iceberg. There may be many more who are affected by the disease but it is yet to manifest itself to an extent where they feel the effects physically.”

Life with the disease

Even as various experts attempt to study the disease, Uddanam Nephropathy has ruined thousands of lives in the region. Those suffering from the disease experience swelling, fatigue and breathlessness, leaving them with no choice but to give up work and stay at home.

“They can’t work so there is no income, but what can we do? We often have to depend on others like our relatives to be the breadwinner for the family,” says Sangeetha, as she waits for her husband to finish his dialysis at the CHC in Sompeta. Her 45-year-old husband has been suffering for the past few years and has had to stop working. The couple depends on her husband’s brother to meet their daily needs.

Sangeetha has no choice but to be hopeful and points out that even though her husband is getting better, their situation remains precarious.

Sixty-year-old Bhima Rao says that he has been unable to work since he was diagnosed with Uddanam Nephropathy three years ago. Sitting outside his one-bedroom house in Amalapadu village, barely two km away from the state’s coast, Rao says, “Forget work, we can’t even stand in the sun for too long. We have no strength and no appetite either. I used to be an agricultural worker, helping in coconut and cashew plantations.”

However, for the last two years, Rao, who lives with his brother, says that his life has revolved around catching a bus to Palasa town for dialysis twice a week.

“I have two sons who have migrated and do labour work to send money home,” he explains, adding, “Some people told us that it is the water that causes the disease. We drink only mineral water and use the same for cooking. We use the bore water only for bathing and other domestic use.”

While Rao gets a pension of Rs 2,500 which is soon going to increase by another Rs 1,000, he says that most of the money goes towards his treatment so he can stay alive. “While dialysis is free, we still spend around Rs 2,000 for our medicines and another Rs 1,200 for an injection 2-3 times a month. I have nothing left for my livelihood,” he adds.

The villages are also still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Titli, which hit the state in October last year. Several coconut and cashew plantations still lay in ruins in and around the villages. Most locals cannot even afford to clear them out.

“We got some compensation for the damage but it is not enough. To clean up the area and start again, many of us need money and even then, these trees take at least 15 to 20 years to grow back. Our future is still uncertain. All political leaders have come here and made tall promises, but no one has actually provided any help,” one local rues.

The same neighbourhood has over 10 people suffering from Uddanam Nephropathy. With no one knowing why, locals have completely stopped consuming groundwater since that is one of the suspected causes. There is a water purification plant in the village where all locals buy water for drinking and cooking purposes.

Ironically, the family of Krishna Rao, the operator of the purification plant, has not been spared from the grip of the disease either. In September 2018, Krishna lost his mother Savithri (Chelamma) who succumbed to the disease after fighting it for nearly a decade.

“In 2008, we went to Vizag and conducted a test when she was repeatedly falling sick. Since then, she was on medication. She was undergoing dialysis two to three times a week, over the last four years,” he says.

“From the moment we got to know, we started a course of medicines that the doctor prescribed, but there was nothing else we could do. She just kept getting progressively worse. Once it strikes, we just resign ourselves to our fate,” he adds.

With no knowledge on the cause or the cure for the disease, sharing expertise across disciplines and countries to accelerate knowledge dissemination, guide the research agenda and help establish its causes is the need of the hour, WHO noted in a bulletin in 2017.

“They should also prioritise the provision of safe drinking water and food in affected areas … until researchers have established the exact cause of this chronic disease. Paramedical personnel trained in renal care, as well as social workers, should also provide social and psychological support to patients, families and communities. All these interventions should be regularly evaluated to assess their impact and adapt them if needed … If policy-makers do not undertake such steps until a cause is established, people of Uddanam are potentially more at risk of acquiring the disease and patients already having chronic kidney disease of unknown etimology will be at risk of death,” the bulletin states.

But northern Andhra being one of the most neglected areas in the state and the country given the political apathy shown towards the region, Dr Jeeviteswara has little hope of the situation improving.

“Every politician who gets elected sleeps for four and a half years and wakes up just ahead of the polls. What are we supposed to do? If the same thing happened in Guntur, Amaravati or Krishna district, would it be met with the same apathy?” he asks. 

(All photos by Nitin B. and Shilpa Ranipeta)

Politics
A government order sanctioned an additional amount of Rs 10 crore for the welfare of protesters, on top of an earlier sanctioned Rs 1.12 crore.
  • Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 18:45
Image: Facebook/Telugu Desam Party

Even as it came to light that the Andhra Pradesh government spent Rs 1.12 crore from the state exchequer to transport protesters in two special trains to New Delhi for a one-day fast led by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, a new Government Order has revealed that the protest may have cost the state a lot more.

The GO dated number 215 and issued by the Finance Department, sanctioned an additional amount of Rs 10 crore for the welfare of the protestors, taking the total bill of the protest organized by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government to Rs 11.12 crore.

The GO was signed by Ravi Chandra Muddada, secretary to the government (expenditure) and was also uploaded on an official website of the state.

However, in a clarification, the Andhra Pradesh government claimed that only Rs 2 crore was spent on the protest and the remaining amount was for ‘other state functions’.

“The Budget Release Order (BRO) issued refers to provision of Rs 8 crore for Other State Functions and only Rs 2 crore for Deeksha. The opening para mentions the same and the allocation is also made as such in the table. It is further clarified that out of provision of Rs 2 crores, GAD has issued about Rs 1.23 crores - 3 bills amounting to Rs 1.12 crore, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1.3 lakh only. Remaining amount of Rs 77 lakh is a provision for any final bills,” the clarification stated.

The previous Government Order dated February 6 issued by Srikant Nagulapalli, the secretary to the government stated, "Government of Andhra Pradesh have decided to hire two (2) special trains with 20 compartments each from South Central Railways, Secunderabad, i.e., starting one (1) train from Ananthapuramu and another from Srikakulam to reach New Delhi by 10.02.2019 to transport interested political parties, organisations, NGOs associations, etc. to participate in one day Deeksha (Protest) at New Delhi on 11.02.2019 to be led by the Chief Minister.”  

Naidu's fast to demand special status for the state in New Delhi on Monday, turned into a show of strength for the opposition parties, which attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for ‘subverting India's democracy and federal structure.’

Prominent opposition leaders, including Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the venue of fast at the Andhra Bhavan and endorsed the special status demand.

While Shiv Sena, a BJP ally, sent Sanjay Raut (MP), Shatrughan Sinha (BJP MP) and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha also visited the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief.

Leading his party's charge, Gandhi accused Modi of lying about granting special status to Andhra Pradesh and said the prime minister was left with no credibility.

"Modi lies wherever he goes. He went to Andhra Pradesh and lied about special status. He has absolutely no credibility left," said Gandhi and also raked up the Rafale deal.

"The prime minister has stolen from the people from Andhra Pradesh and given that money to his crony," he alleged.

Speaking on the occasion, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded the Modi government fulfil the promise of special status to Andhra without any further loss of time.

"Modi is threatening everybody -- opposition, bureaucracy, corporates and even the media. He is using the CBI, the ED and the IT Department to crush the opposition and dissent," said Naidu, adding, “We want to save democracy. Today there is a democratic compulsion for all political parties to join together to save the country."

(With IANS inputs)

 
Accident
Police said that the kid was stuck to the pole for at least five minutes before others noticed.
  • Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 15:32

An act of negligence resulted in the death of a 6-year-old boy in a posh residential colony in Hyderabad's Narsingi area after he was electrocuted on coming in contact with a lamp post. The police said that the incident happened at around 6:15 pm on Monday. 

A horrifying video from the CCTV footage of the gated community shows the child playfully grabbing the post and swinging around only to receive a massive shock. He then gets attached to the pole due to the electricity passing through it. For several minutes, the boy remained stuck to the pole as several residents of the colony walked by unaware of what was happening.  

The police said that there were around 10 such lamp posts in the colony and the pole that the child came in contact with, was right in front of the block where he stayed with his parents. 

"After around 4 to 5 minutes, he got detached from the pole and fell down following which another child noticed him and alerted the security guard. The guard also received a minor shock when she tried to touch him," Sub Inspector K M Raghavendra from Narsingi police station told TNM. 

The police official also said that people in the locality tried Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) but the child had already lost his life by then. 

"At around 6:45 pm they took him to a nearby hospital where doctors declared him brought dead. The police were informed about the incident at around 8:40 pm following which a case was registered under Section 304A (Death due to negligence) of the IPC," the SI added. 

The police also said that the incident has left the child's parents in shock and they returned to Tamil Nadu, where they hailed from, on Monday night itself. 

The case has been registered against the builder INCOR Developers, the residential welfare association of PBEL City and the firm in charge of maintaining the amenities in the community. Investigation officials are also ascertaining what exactly led to the large amount of electricity passing through the pole. 

 

Immigration
Around 100 immigrants, many from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, have been arrested, sparking panic among Indian students communities in the United States.
  • Friday, February 01, 2019 - 11:24
Image for representation


After federal authorities arrested around a hundred immigrants, many from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh caught in a fake university sting operation, Telugu associations in the US began reaching out to help panicked students. As hundreds of Indians involved in the scam face arrest and potential deportation, the associations began hosting webinars and offering legal advice to beleaguered students.

The US Department of Homeland Security created a fake university by the name of University of Farmington in Michigan – with the aim of trapping immigration agents and illegal immigrants, who were extending their stay in America on the pretext of being students. Arrests were carried out by Homeland Security officials and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to some estimates, arrest warrants for 600 Farmington ‘students’ have been issued, many of whom are Indian citizens, and 100 of them have been picked up by the authorities so far. The Indian Consulate General in Chicago reported receiving the names of 29 Indians arrested in the case as of Thursday.

Telugu associations step in

As of possible arrests and deportations emerged, panic spread through Indian student communities in the United States. The American Telugu Association (ATA) opened up registration for a webinar titled 'University of Farmington ICE Issue : Effect on F-1 CPT Employment.' The ATA has also set up an emergency help team to aid those affected.

"As the news started trickling in about the arrest of Indian students, the friends of the affected students called ATA team for guidance and help. ATA team swung into action and has reached out to the friends of these students, advising and counselling them about the next course of action. ATA team has reached out to the Indian Ambassador Harshvardhan Shingla, and the Indian consulates in Washington DC and Atlanta. The Indian consulates are looking to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security," the association said.

In its webinar with immigration attorneys Ravi Mannam, Michael Sofo and Hemant Ramachandran from the law firm of Mannam & Associates LLC, the ATA guided and counselled the students to be “watchful with fake agents who promise illegal ways to stay in the USA with admissions in unaccredited colleges.”

Though the federal operation, dubbed ‘Paper Chase,’ only applies to immigrants who were pretending to be students at the fake Farmington University, thousands of Indian students who are legal immigrants on F1 visas or awaiting H-1B work permits bombarded the experts with questions on whether the scam affects their current status in the country.

The attorneys informed students on what constituted violation of immigration rules.

The lawyers also pointed out that in many cases, “students entered the country legally and in a law-abiding way. They had no predisposition to circumvent the procedure,” citing cases where the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was delaying the issuance of a H-1B visa, which may have forced students to enroll in one of these universities to extend their F1 (Student visa) status.

“Talk to immigration attorneys and be truthful to them,” the speakers at the webinar said.

In a statement, Jay Talluri, the executive vice-president of Telugu Association for North America (TANA) said, "It’s very disturbing to see these students arrested. I along with Raja Kasukurthi and Satish Palukuri met with Sandeep Chakravarthy (Indian Consulate General, New York), and requested to talk to the Indian Ambassador and act on it. Sandeep Chakravarthy received the memorandum submitted by TANA and promised to talk to the Indian Ambassador and take immediate action, and make a request to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorities.”

"He also promised to talk to all the appropriate people to take necessary actions,” Jay added, “I hope this problem will be resolved and students will get a chance to stay and apply for other universities.”

Meanwhile, the Telangana American Telugu Association also hosted a webinar on the subject. Speaking to TNM, a representative from the association stated that they were working with several officials to address the issue. Students whose F1 status is scheduled to expire have been advised to return to India by February 5.

Some associations have also been asking students to band together and meet their local senators in the United States, to take up the issue.

In Vijayawada, the Andhra Pradesh Non-Resident Telugu (APNRT) Society, the official platform of the state government, said it would extend help to arrested Telugu students through its 150 coordinators in the US. APNRT society president Ravikumar P. Vemuru, said that the students could contact the coordinators listed on the society website. They may also contact 24-hour helpline 08632340678.

He told reporters that the students should be seen as victims and not crime perpetrators, as the US Government is claiming. He advised the parents of the students not to worry. "They will be fine because there is no clear-cut intention to defraud the US government," he said.

He said barring eight brokers who were arrested the remaining 592 students will not suffer major damage. The maximum damage they may face is deportation if proved they were adopting illegal means to stay.

The University of Farmington was a fake university created in 2015 in an operation termed “Paper Chase” which was designed by Homeland Security agents to track down and arrest recruiters and others who were working to help foreign students stay in the country illegally.

The indictment by the federal grand jury stated that eight individuals were charged with conspiracy to help the students remain in the country illegally.

The recruiters were identified as Bharath Kakireddy (29) from Lake Mary, Florida; Aswanth Nune (26) from Atlanta; Suresh Reddy Kandala (31) from Culpeper, Virginia; Phanideep Karnati (35) from Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Kumar Rampeesa (26) from Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Reddy Sama (28) from Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally (28) from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Naveen Prathipati (29) from Dallas. They collectively received $250,000 in cash and kickbacks to find students to attend the university, according to prosecutors, the Detroit News reported.

Many arrests also reportedly took place in Houston, Charlotte in North Carolina, Atlanta and St Louis.  The DHS had so far provided the consulate with the names of 29 arrested persons, Head of Chancery at the Consulate General in Chicago said.

“The university was being used by foreign citizens as a 'pay to stay' scheme which allowed these individuals to stay in the United States as a result of foreign citizens falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational program and that they were making normal progress toward completion of the course of study," the indictment reportedly states.

 

Read: Hundreds of Indians face deportation, arrest in US fake university sting operation

 

With inputs from Nimeshika Jayachandran.

Politics
His move triggered off several speculations including that he may not be given a cabinet berth in the second term of the TRS government.
  • Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 18:29

Senior Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and former state Minister T Harish Rao has raised several eyebrows after his decision to move out of the Ministerial bungalow that he occupied on Road No 12 in Hyderabad's Banjara Hills area.

Harish has been shifting to his private residence in Kondapur and has triggered off several speculations including that he may not be given a cabinet berth in the second term of the TRS government. The TRS swept the Assembly polls held on December 7, bagging 88 seats in the 119-seat Legislative Assembly.

Clever ploy or disgruntlement? 

Party insiders say that Harish has been upset ever since Congress leader Vanteru Pratap Reddy, who had contested against Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao from the Gajwel constituency, defected to the TRS.

It was Harish, who is also KCR's nephew, who campaigned for the TRS chief and ensured his victory in Gajwel. This, after a bitter battle with Vanteru, with the two exchanging harsh words and levelling several accusations against each other.

The decision to induct Vanteru also came shortly after KCR appointed his son, K T Rama Rao, as the Working President of the TRS. Vanteru was inducted by KTR and Harish was absent at the event. While Vanteru later met with KCR, Harish abstained from that meeting as well.

However, with Harish now moving out of his ministerial bungalow, many wonder what role he would be given. "It all depends on KCR. He will take the final call and decide what needs to be done," a source from the TRS said.  

Ploy to make other ministers shift? 

Other sources indicate that it could be a ploy to get other Ministers from the earlier term of the government, to also vacate their bungalows. This would allow the TRS chief to ensure a major shakeup in the cabinet with either younger faces being given a chance, or only around 7 to 8 key ministers heading a reorganised govt with more departments under each minister. However, top TRS leadership remains tight-lipped about the developments.   

There is also speculation that the new cabinet may not include KTR or Harish Rao, with both of them instead being tasked with winning the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, as KCR has national ambitions and is stitching up a Federal Front. In such a scenario, it is crucial that the party wins 16 out of the 17 MP seats in the state. The TRS already has an understanding with Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, to ensure that he retains his seat.

KCR, who had taken oath on December 13, along with his trusted confidante and Home Minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali, has also remained largely mum on the expansion of the cabinet. With close to 50 days since the results, KCR continues to hold two-person cabinet meetings, which include just himself and Ali.

With just one Minister in his cabinet, KCR may also need to present the Budget of the state soon. For this, he will need a Finance Minister or at least an interim Minister to present the state's finances in the Assembly. Sources say that keeping this in mind, the cabinet members may be announced before February 10.

Harish has been in the party since its inception, always accompanying KCR, while KTR returned from the United States during the Telangana movement and rose swiftly through the ranks of the TRS. This has often triggered speculation that all is not well between the first family of the TRS.

Harish, who has been a sitting legislator since 2004 and has become a seasoned politician, is maintaining in public that there was no rift in the family and that he would dutifully perform whatever role was assigned to him, even if it meant that he had to contest the Lok Sabha polls. 

During the first term of the TRS government, Harish was given the portfolio of Irrigation, crucial for the party as water to every household was one of its key campaign promises during the agitation for separate statehood.

Many also point out that Harish enjoys massive support on the ground and cannot be dismissed easily, pointing that he won with a margin of more than 1 lakh votes, for the sixth consecutive time from Siddipet, with practically no sign of anti-incumbency.   

Crime
Angry protesters blocked the streets of a town and raised slogans demanding strict action against the accused for the heinous crime.
  • Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - 14:52

Anger spilled out on to the streets of a town in Andhra Pradesh's Guntur district after the rape of a 7-year-old child on Tuesday night. Locals marched in protest, raised slogans and blocked the main road of the town, demanding justice. Some slogans also demanded that the accused be hanged for the heinous crime. The police later stepped in to diffuse the situation.

The incident came to light after locals lodged a complaint with the police on Tuesday night claiming that the accused, Jayaraj, in a drunken state, allegedly cornered the minor and raped her. He also reportedly threatened her against speaking about what happened. The 7-year-old is presently undergoing treatment at a hospital and her condition is said to be stable.

Speaking to TNM, a Sub-Inspector from the police station said, "The incident took place last night after a man in his 30s from the village cornered a 7-year-old and sexually assaulted her. A case was filed on Tuesday night itself, as soon as we received a complaint. However, locals took to the streets of the town in the morning to express their anger. The situation is now under control."

"A case has been registered against the accused for kidnapping besides Section 376 (Rape) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. We are investigating the case to ascertain what happened. Strict action will be taken," he added. 

While the police are yet to confirm the accused's arrest, TNM has learnt that he has been detained by the police. 

Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has also reportedly taken note of the incident and ordered the district collector and superintendent of police to ensure that swift action is taken in the case.

This is far from the first time that such an incident is taking place. The anger, especially against the district administration, comes as Guntur district witnessed a spate of rape cases last year.  

In May last year, the rape of the minor girl had triggered massive protests in Dachepalli. Protesters had pelted stones on buses and vehicles, vandalised the accused’s home and even called for a bandh. Additional security forces were deployed which managed to control the violence.

Both, Leader of Opposition YS Jaganmohan Reddy and Jana Sena Party chief and actor-politician Pawan Kalyan, had condemned the incident. Chief Minister Naidu had even made a personal visit to the hospital and met the survivor and her family. 

A day after the incident, the accused killed himself near a temple in Girzala mandal after expressing remorse in his last phone conversation.

However, just days after that crime, another case had come to light where a 14-year-old minor girl was allegedly repeatedly raped and impregnated in the district.

This was followed by another incident where an alleged attempt to sexually assault a 10-year-old resulted in residents blocking a road near a police station in the district, pelting stones and injuring some police officials.

 

Politics
Those who attended the meet included Pawan Kalyan, former state Chief Secretary I Y R Krishna Rao, two TDP Ministers and retired Supreme Court Justice Chelameswar.
  • Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 15:54

An all-party meet was held in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday to highlight the 'injustice' meted out to the state since it was bifurcated in 2014. The meeting which was called by Former MP Vundavalli Arun Kumar, a prominent figure in state politics, was held at Hotel Ilapuram in Vijayawada.

Speaking at the event, Undavalli said that issues pertaining to bifurcation of the state, implementation of the Bifurcation Act and Special Category Status (SCS) were discussed.

"This is just a beginning. We received a great response and discussed many things. The Bifurcation Act is not being implemented properly. We will meet again sometime and chalk out a future course of action," Undavalli said. 

Those who attended the meet included actor-politician and Jana Sena party chief Pawan Kalyan, former state Chief Secretary I Y R Krishna Rao, who recently joined the BJP and retired Supreme Court Justice Chelameswar. From the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Minister for Social Welfare Nakka Anand Babu, Agriculture Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy and AP Planning Board Vice-Chairman C Kutumba Rao were present.

CPI State Secretary K Ramakrishna was also present along with Tulasi Reddy from Congress, and representatives of the AAP. 

After the meeting, Undavalli also described how the bifurcation bill was passed in Parliament amid pandemonium, despite massive protests by MPs from Andhra Pradesh. 

"We must not forget how cruelly they insulted the state in 2014 which led to the bifurcation. There was unanimity in demanding special status at the meeting. There was some disagreement between BJP's IYR Krishna Rao and TDP about the amount sanctioned by the Centre, but we are still together in the fact that there was injustice," he told reporters. 

"This is not to find fault with the Congress or the BJP. The problem is institutional, irrespective of government. We are here to demand our constitutional right," he added.

Undavalli said that it was even more crucial to hold the all-party meet as the state was gearing up for simultaneous Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

"Once election campaigning starts, there will be politics. Each party in the state will accuse the other of misappropriation of funds. But once the election is over in the interest of the state, we must all work together, especially in the Lok Sabha. That is my wish. Otherwise there will be a repeat of what happened in 2014," he said. 

"We want to dismiss Delhi's impression that we will forget the constitutional injustice that happened to us. We want to show them that we will unite for the rights of our state," he added.

The former Congress MP also told reporters that the CPM had boycotted the meeting as they refused to share a table with the BJP, while the YSRCP said the same about the TDP. However, he was quick to add that he respected their right to dissent and hoped that they would change their minds in the future. 

Somireddy from the TDP, who also spoke, said, "The Centre owes at least Rs 1 lakh crore to the state. There is no ambiguity here. While we may disagree on the exact figure, no one doubts that the amount is roughly close to that."

The Andhra Minister also cited the 20-member Joint Fact-Finding Committee (JFC) constituted by Pawan Kalyan, which had come up with a similar figure. 

"It has been four and a half years. When will the Centre give what is due to the state? They should take note of the unscientific bifurcation. There has been injustice to the state. We are only asking for our rightful share," he added.