Hyderabad/Vemulaghat (Siddipet district): On 21 October, a posse of policemen descended upon Vemulaghat, a village in Siddipet district of Telangana. The unusual turnout was a precaution taken during the gram sabha meeting by the district administration to discuss land acquisition with villagers for the Komuravelli Mallanna Sagar reservoir. Last year, protests against land acquisition had resulted in a lathi-charge by the police.
Ever since the government announced in 2015 that it would build a 50 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) reservoir in Komuravelli Mallanna Sagar, for which it would require land from eight villages, farmers from Vemulaghat, which has about 600 families, have been reluctant to part with their land. In fact, 31 October marks exactly 514 days since people from Vemulaghat began protesting. Their village is to be submerged along with the others for the reservoir to come up.
“We don’t want just money. Our village is the greenest here. What we want is land for land, and village for village in return. The state government has tried to take away lands forcibly," said Mohammed Hayatuddin, 48, a land-owner in Vemulaghat who approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi and got a stay on the Kaleshwaram project earlier this month. The state government has challenged the order in the high court and the case is being heard.
The reservoir is the biggest in the state government’s massive Rs80,000 crore lift-irrigation project named Kaleshwaram, for which land is being acquired at various other places as well. With the project, the state government is aiming to irrigate 1.88 million acres of farmland, by constructing a barrage across the Godavari river. Through it, a total of 225 TMC of water is expected to be drawn post completion, including 56 TMC for drinking and 10 TMC for industrial purposes.
Y. Srinivas Reddy, 40, a farmer from Vemulaghat, said that his family owns a total of 15 acres of farm land. “We grow paddy, cotton and maize from which I alone earn Rs1 lakh every six months. Seed production here is also good. So we are reluctant to give up our lands," he pointed out, and added that the Rs6 lakh per acre price he was offered was much lesser than the market price there.
Those from Vemulaghat insist that they want the state government to follow the 2013 Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR). They censure the state government for passing G.O. (government order) 123 in 2015 to acquire land from whoever was willing to give it up for public works. It was, however, struck down by the high court in August last year, based on a petition against it from farmers.
Government officials from the state irrigation department, who were unwilling to be identified, however, said that the Vemulghat protests are “politically motivated". “The amount per acre we are giving, which varies from place to place based on market prices, is much higher than what they will get under LARR. We wanted to speed up land procurement and keeping with the spirit of the Act, GO 123 was issued," said a senior official overseeing the Kaleshwaram project.
He pointed out that, so far, out of the total 17,511 acres of land required for the Komuravelli Mallanna Sagar project, only 1,416 acres (of which 1,173 acres are in Vemulaghat) are left to be acquired. “Even in Vemulaghat more than half of the land has been acquired. Submergence of villages has been kept to minimal under the project when compared to others taken up in the past," the official stated.
Critics of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government have called GO 123 undemocratic. “When a law (2013 LARR Act) is in provision, you cannot bring out a GO violating it. In fact, the High Court said that the purpose state government is not to sell or purchase land. The government has tried to buy land at a cheap price," alleged prof. M. Kodandaram, chairman of the Telangana Joint Action Committee.