Telangana land acquisition order rattles farmers, unites Opposition

Telangana land acquisition order rattles farmers, unites Opposition

The ambitious plan of the Telangana government to speed up redesigning of irrigation projects by acquiring vast tracts of land with the help of a Government Order (GO), has hit a road block with stiff resistance from farmers and landless labour. For the first time after bifurcation, the opposition which was decimated by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), found a cause to fight. The two-month long agitation by residents of eight villages in Medak district has finally forced the government to relook at its acquisition policy.

The GO issued by Telangana in July last year, was supposed to make land acquisition for construction of projects, mainly finishing works, an easy task. While the order is meant for land acquisition in all 10 districts of Telangana, over 52,000 acres of land was to be acquired in Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s native district Medak alone.

An estimated 22,000 acres were to be acquired for construction of a reservoir for Mallannasagar project in eight villages and another 25,000 acres for proposed National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) that runs across 18 villages. The government has plans to acquire 6,000 acres in 14 villages under Kondapochamma reservoir with the help of the same GO which has become controversial.

The government, through the GO, tried to bypass the cumbersome process of land acquisition through the 2013 Act that stipulates huge compensation and benefits for landless labour who in no way would benefit from the process of acquisition. The order aims to cut down gestation time of government projects by procuring land through an agreement between owners and the concerned department or district collector.

All it needs is a word of approval by the District Level Land Procurement Committee (DLLPC). In this simplified process, the procuring agency will inform the district collector about the land required for public developmental purpose along with necessary details. On receipt of such information, the collector will ascertain the willingness of the land owners for sale of land and property thereon.

However, the first salvo was fired from a village Etigadda Kistapur, with the oustees joining hands against the GO. Kistapur is one of the eight villages slated for submergence under the 50 tmc ft capacity Mallannasagar reservoir under Pranahita Chevella project. A farmer named Karu-nakar of Erravelli village in Kondapaka mandal committed suicide refusing to surrender his land. In yet another related development, a lady farmer Bhanoth Chavali from Etigadda Kistapur Tanda fell ill.

Karunakar was depressed as the government was only offering Rs 6 lakh per acre as per the new order whereas the 2013 Land Acquisition Act offered four times the market value. Former deputy chief minister Damodar Raj Narsimha of the Congress has said that provisions of the Act are so draconian that land acquisition has been turned into a district level issue where the farmer becomes a seller and the administration becomes a buyer without any chance of negotiation. The Left parties and the Telugu Desam Party also declared support to the villagers and their representatives are participating in the rely hunger strike.

The Telangana government received a big jolt after the Telangana Joint Action Committee (JAC), an umbrella organisation of several pro-Telangana unions that spearheaded the ‘separate state agitation’ for years, found fault with the government’s land acquisition policy. Its chairman Kodandaram pointed out that the GO negated the concept of free Telangana which was under oppression of different rulers. 

“The agitation was to demand self rule so that the people of Telangana have their say in the matters of land, water and employment,” he said reminding the government that it has strayed from its mandate. The JAC then launched its awareness programme in Medak district explaining the oustees about their rights.

Semi-arid landscape
While there is an acute need for assured irrigation to the semi-arid landscape of
Telangana, the issue of redesigning of the projects has invited criticism from the Opposition parties. They want the government to complete the ongoing projects such as Kalwakurthy, Bheema, Nettempadu, Koilsagar, Srisailam Left Bank Canal (AMR) first before taking up the new ones.

They argued that over 8 lakh acres could be given water if Rs 1,000 crore is spe-nt on the projects that are nearing completion. Some experts even questioned the need for building massive reservoirs where a series of small reservoirs along the canals of Pr-anahitha-Chevella can yield the same result.

Despite the claims by the government that the Mallannasagar oustees have agreed to relocate themselves, the villagers showed resilience and passed panchayat-level resolutions refusing to part with their land. They led protest marches to the collectorate. Opening up another front, residents of 18 villages of Jarasangham and Nyalkal mandals have launched relay hunger strike against the land acquisition plans for the proposed manufacturing zone.

Following the two-month long agitation by Mallannasagar oustees, the TRS government firm on changing the irrigation profile of the state, has finally agreed to have a relook at its policy. Sources say that the government is ready to include certain provisions of the 2013 Act and make necessary changes in the GO. As per the 2013 Act, the government has to conduct socio-economic impact study in the villages of submergence, provide alternative sites in the ayacut developed, rights of fishing and construction of a colony to re-settle the affected villages.

The government which requires about 1,04,628 acres of land for completion of the projects, realised that it cannot move forward without the active participation of its people and redefine its policy.  A high powered committee reviewed the situation and a new refined, farmer friendly policy is now in the offing.

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