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Telangana SEZ story- Exploitation beyond limits ఆగస్ట్ 1, 2008

Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Appeals, elections, livelihoods, Mahabubnagar, NTPP, politics, SEZ, TDP, TRS.

Land From Landless

The Andhra Pradesh government has forcibly acquired land allotted to landless Dalits for an SEZ, reports MANSHI ASHER


“We, Polepalli SEZ Vyathireka Aikya Sanghatana are contesting these elections as we find all political groups have cheated the poor farmers and are responsible for their deaths. All political parties are silent on this major crime that’s taking the lives of people in the name of the SEZ.”


THESE ARE the opening lines of a press note issued by a group of 13 Dalits — three of them women — of Polepally village in Andhra Pradesh’s Mahbubnagar district, who stood as independent candidates in the recently held by-election for the Jadcherla Assembly. So why 13 separate candidates?

Did they actually expect to rake in any votes at all? Twenty-five-year-old Srinivas, to whom this question was posed, was prompt in his response, “The idea was not to win. The idea was to spread the message that we had no faith in the existing leaders and parties. We also wanted to split the votes of the dominant parties who are responsible for the state our people are in today”. It was probably one of the most audacious and creative strategies that a grassroots movement has used in recent times to challenge existing power structures.


For the last five years, Dalits and Adivasis here have been fighting a relentless battle to save their lands from forced acquisition for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Poleppally. But their attempts have been thwarted and crushed by a nexus of local politicians, revenue officials and the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC). The APIIC, an undertaking of the AP government, has acquired more than 33,000 acres across the state for industrial parks and projects. In 2001, it identified an area of 1,000 acres in two villages Polepally and Mudureddypally in Jadcherla Block for a proposed SEZ.


“All they told us was that they were building a “green park” and that we would get jobs in it. We thought they were developing a plantation or something!” says Develela Naggan Goud of Mudureddypally village. By 2003, the process of land acquisition was initiated. “The land marking and survey was started without any individual notices,” informs Sujatha, a sociology professor and activist who has been supporting the struggle. The first big protest against the acquisition was held that same year when the villagers blocked the National Highway 7.


In 2004, the protest was carried to the state capital, with a demonstration in front of the Legislative Assembly. “Just when it was announced that the acquisition would be scrapped, the local MLA of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti sent a letter to the government to bring back the project to the area,” says Madhu Kuggala one of the leaders of the movement based at Mahbubnagar.


It was only in 2005, when Hyderabad-based pharmaceuticals giant Aurobindo Pharma entered the scene that it became clear to the people of Polepally that a part of the land acquired was for a ‘Pharma SEZ’ to be spread over more than 200 acres. The most outrageous part of the story is yet to follow: the callous way in which the APIIC and the local administration went about acquiring the 300 acres in Mudureddypally and 700 acres in Polepally. Nearly half of the land acquired in Poleppally — all under cultivation — were ceiling lands assigned to Dalits and Adivasis more than a decade and a half ago.

Since 1966, the AP government claims to have redistributed 42 lakh acres of land as part of its land reform programme under the AP Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfers) Act, 1977, also known as Act 9 of 1977. The question is, how could the State first redistribute land to the landless under a full-fledged legislation and then take away the same land from the grantees? According to K Balagopal, lawyer and founder member of the AP Human Rights Forum, transfers of land assigned to the poor are actually illegal under the Act 9. But, in December 2006, the Congress-led government brought in a controversial amendment that allowed it to reclaim land that had been ‘alienated’ (when land assigned has been sold off or is no longer being used) for ‘public purposes’.


However, the residents of Polepally contest that the acquired land was not ‘alienated’ at all. Instead, they were completely dependent on the land, growing crops like rice, jowar, horse gram, chillies and vegetables, sufficient to last them through the year. “The district revenue officer told us that whether we like it or not, we have to give the land. He said that if we gave it now, we will receive the compensation, or else the money will be deposited in the treasury,” says 55-year-old Sukkamma, who lost five acres and got only 50 percent of her due compensation. Subject to constant pressure and coercion, many residents accepted the compensation. A group of locals tried to stop construction work at the site, but were arrested and jailed.


The famers with “patta” land received a higher compensation than those with assigned/ ceiling land, who got a measly Rs 18,000 per acre. “This was the official figure, but we received only 50 percent of the amount after officials took their cuts,” says Jangilamma, who lost seven and half acres and got a total of Rs 60,000 as compensation. All of the 300 families in Polepally lost every single inch of land they owned except for the homestead lands. Fifteen families are still awaiting compensation.


With no other means of livelihood left, many residents of Polepally now find themselves at the construction site of Aurobindo Pharma, the same company whose activities they tried to block at the beginning of the construction work about five months ago. Adds Jangilamma, who was one among the 13 who contested the byelections, “It is shameful for us to work for these people. It is our defeat that we cannot stand up to them.” Her fellow villagers are of the view that after the constant struggle, they at least have been given the right to earn daily wages there.


The desperation of the villagers becomes clear when one learns that Polepally has witnessed about 41 unnatural deaths from the time that their lands have been forcibly taken away. Most have been heart attacks — unheard of in these parts — while several others were suicides. That the district collector announced recently that 10 acres of land would be returned back to the village to be used as graveyards was probably just coincidental


Source: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 31, Dated Aug 09, 2008



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