Hostages in their own village, the people of Vemulaghat, a small village in Medak district fiercely opposing the land acquisition efforts of Telangana Government for water project, completed 100 days of protest Monday and vowed not to yield to government pressure to give up their fertile lands.
Since the last 100 days, a population of approximately 3000 in the village is living under the shadow of fear and police who prevent the villagers from going out, and visitors from going into the village. The government has imposed Section 144 and Section 30 (A) in the village 50 days ago, prohibiting even three or four youths of the village from sitting together. A permanent police picket has been established at the entrance to the village with a sub-inspector and his team hiring a house to keep a watch on activities in the village. Rights activists and political leaders are detained outside of the village and taken to police stations or they are forcibly sent back.
“If a villager is travelling alone, police does not harass him much but if two villagers are going together they ask lots of questions. They want to know why and where we are going together. Police accuses us of fomenting trouble. They don’t want us to protest or say anything against the project. Similarly, civil and human rights activists, political leaders and people from other villagers are prevented from entering the village to meet us. Even village elders or young boys are prevented from sitting together. We are hostages in our own village,’’ Rajanarasimha Reddy, a villager said today. Today, Vemulaghat villagers who were joined by villagers from neighbouring villages which will also be submerged if the project is complete took out a massive rally to protest against the government’s land acquisition.
The Telangana Government wants to acquire 12,000 acres in 14 villages to create a huge reservoir to store water pumped from river Godavari, 200 kms away, to mitigate the local drinking water problems. While some villagers parted with their land in lieu of compensation, the entire Vemulagatta village has refused. “These are fertile lands where we grow 2 crops a year. We don’t want to give the land. If it is inevitable then the government should compensate us properly for ousting us. Right now the government is offering Rs 7 lakhs as compensation to a farmer losing an acre of land with a borewell in it. The compensation is Rs 5.8 lakhs per acre without borewell. This is very less, inadequate and would eventually leave us with nothing. We want compensation and rehabilitation under the Land Acquisition Act which entitles us to fair compensation and benefits of proper rehabilitation, jobs, and schooling for our children,’’ says Y Srinivas Reddy, a panchayat member.
The villagers are opposing the land acquisition for the Sri Komaravelli MallannaSagar Lift Irrigation project which is a reservoir that is 80 sq kms wide and 60 metres deep. It is proposed to store 50 TMC of water in the reservoir which would be brought here through pumping and gravity from a barrage on Godavari in Karimangar district. From here the water is to be pumped further to various districts for irrigation and drinking. Telangana Government is keen on going ahead with the project as it would mitigate the water problems in the area prone to water shortage. Of the 1000 farmers in Vemulagatta, at least 50 farmers whose land documents were not proper opted to give their land to the government while the remaining 950 farmers have refused to give up their land completely or are demanding higher compensation, housing, jobs in lieu of livelihood loss, and educational facilities for their children.
As their relay protest entered the 100th day today, the village’s youth and school children joined the protest at the village centre. Wearing T-shirts with slogans ‘we want Land Act 2013’, they raised slogans and vowed to fight it out with the government. Irrigation Minister T Harish Rao says, TElangana Government is offering a far better compensation than what the farmers would get if the Land Acquistion Act 2013 is implemented.
“Besides the monetary compensation, we are offering house for house, school for school and temple for temple. The displaced families will get 2-bedroom houses constructed by the government. If farmers opt for the the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 it is a long process of over six months. Farmers will get four times the registered value of their land. In these villages, the land value per acre is Rs 60,000 only and thrice that value is only Rs 1.80 lakhs while we are offering Rs 7 lakhs per acre with borewell and Rs 5.80 lakhs per acre without borewell,’’ Rao said.