Hyderabad: Mala Jangilamma is happy.
The 62-year-old and 12 other farmers who contested the recently held Jadcherla assembly by-elections lost so badly that they forfeited their security deposits. So, why is she so happy?
Jangilamma, Etti Peda Pentaiah, Depalli Yadaiah, Bandapalli Jangamma, Kanduru Mogulaiah, Kanduru Jangaiah and others lost the meagre land they owned — two to eight acres each — to make way for a special economic zone, or SEZ. “Victory or defeat was not the issue. I am elated we could draw the attention of people across the state to our struggle against the SEZ,” says Jangilamma.
Earthy demands: Mala Jangilamma, who contested the elections, was one among the 350 families that have demanded their lands back.
The Andhra Pradesh government acquired 7.3 acres she owned in Polepally in Mahbubnagar district, which is part of the Jadcherla assembly constituency, to build an SEZ.
Jangilamma now works as a construction worker for Rs120 a day on the the same land where Hetero Drugs Ltd, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical firm is building a factory.
The farmers say the government has short-changed them, and want their land back. They say they got between Rs18,000 and Rs50,000 for an acre for land that is available in the market for about Rs20 lakh per acre.
The government acquired close to 1,000 acres from about 350 families, who were marginal and small farmers belonging to Dalit, backward and tribal communities. Since their protests fell on deaf ears, 13 of them decided to contest the polls under the banner of Polepally SEZ Vyathireka Ikya Sanghatana (Alliance against Polepally SEZ, or PSVIS), to draw attention to their battle against what they say is a grave injustice.
“We did not receive even half of the compensation that the government announced. Officials at every level from the village to the district took commissions (bribes), and we ended up with paltry amounts,” says Depalli Yadaiah, whose family lost five acres. Yadaiah now works as a mason at construction sites.
“We used to cultivate dry crops such as maize, wheat, pulses and oilseeds in our one acre of land. For other essentials, we used to do labour occasionally,” says Etti Lingaiah, another farmer whose family lost four acres of land. “Since we don’t have land anymore, we now are compelled to work as labourers throughout the year.”
Why field 13, when just one representative would have sufficed?
“We had, in fact, initially thought we will field 150 farmers, but we couldn’t collect the Rs7.5 lakh required for security deposits,” says Madhu Kagula, social activist and convenor of PSVIS, arguing that they knew they could not defeat the candidates of established political parties, and this was their way of registering protest.
“Ever since we announced our decision to contest the elections, leaders of key political parties threatened us. Even election commission officials harassed us by slapping notices on us for not submitting the details of our poll expenditure,” says Etti Srinivasulu, another of the 13.
While political party candidates said they spend a couple of lakhs each to campaign for the elections, the farmers say they collectively spent Rs1.58 lakh that includes the aggregate security deposit of Rs65,000. “We are now left with loans of around Rs78,500,” says Kagula.
In 2003, a government led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had acquired the land in Polepally through the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corp. (APIIC) for industrialization, but it was during the tenure of a Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) legislator that a Congress party-led state government allocated the land to an SEZ. The farmers are, thus, against all these parties.
They demand that the state hand back their land. “We are willing to give back whatever compensation we received,” said Etti Peda Pentaiah.
Currently, construction works have been taken up in around 100 acres of the 1,000 acres the government has acquired for the SEZ.
“We want the government to give back the balance 900 acres to the farmers and extend better compensation package to them,” says Kagula.
“Let APIIC pay to farmers the difference between the cost of acquisition of land from farmers and the cost at which the land was sold to the companies in the SEZ,” he added.
The Jadcherla assembly seat fell vacant after 17 MLAs and four MPs of TRS resigned, saying the ensuring by-elections would be a referendum on their demand for a separate Telengana state in northern Andhra Pradesh.
The sitting TRS MLA lost the polls by a margin of more than 24,000 votes, coming third after Erra Shankar of the TDP, who lost by 2,106 votes. Mallu Ravi of the Congress party won the seat.
Jangilamma polled 1,771 votes, or 3.92% of what Ravi polled. The 13 farmers collectively secured 8,600 votes.