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Polavaram: Rehabilitation via Forced Consensus

In the Polavaram dam project of Andhra Pradesh, a rehabilitation package for tribals is being implemented through forced consensus and has led to police harassment when the government's measures are questioned.

Polavaram: Rehabilitation via Forced Consensus

In the Polavaram dam project of Andhra Pradesh, a rehabilitationpackage for tribals is being implemented through forcedconsensus and has led to police harassment when the government’smeasures are questioned.


t is a question of building consensus by using fear tactics and forced opinion-building in the implementation of the Polavaram dam project of Andhra Pradesh. Very recently headlines screamed “Polavaram will go on”. Sure it will and if it must (leaving aside criticism expressed daily on the issue) then it will be at the cost of those who are opposing the project – either communities in the submergence zone villages or those suffering at the cost of “rehabilitation” in the “non-submergence” villages. More so, if they happen to be from tribal communities and small dalit farmers or are absolutely landless.

The Polavaram project is a multipurpose project that promises to transfer 80,000 million cubic feet of water to coastal Andhra Pradesh and the Rayalaseema region for irrigation and generation of electricity. However, the project will displace hundreds of mostly tribal people that live in that area and have an adverse effect on their livelihoods. The situation is further aggravated by the ambivalence of the main political parties and the inappropriate rehabilitation packages offered to the affected people.

At the time of writing this report (end-April 2007), at least three people from Chegondapally, Tellavaram and Polavaram are in the Rajahmundry central jail, and the women’s prison – Kunjam Rama Rao, Muchika Suramma and Geedi Pentaiah (the last two are also members of the AP Rythu Coolie Sangham). They have been arrested under sections 143, 341, 153, 153 (A), 124 (A), 341, 447, 434, 427 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (with variations for each of them). For the lay person some of these sections mean – being a “member of unlawful assembly” (143), “wrongfully restrainingany person/official on duty” (341), “promoting enmity between classes in places of worship” (153 (A), “sedition” (124A). Let me make this even more specific

– some time last year, Suramma and the other two (as many in their village) had questioned the revenue divisional officer (RDO) and joint collector when the spillway work of the Polavaram project was under way. Chegondapally was one of the villages that directly faced the effects of the construction. Smoke from dynamite blasts used to envelop the village day and night. Their requisitions on this problem were of no avail. Now, every meeting in this village takes place in a temple, or ‘ramalayam’. Even officials meet villagers here. Hence, the section, “creating enmity between classes (read, pro-, anti-dam) in a religious place of worship” come into play! Sedition, a legacy of the colonial times, holds the same intent today; in simple terms, opposing the powers, and that can be interpreted by those in power.

Perhaps their association with the Rythu Coolie Sangham (which has been engaged in tribal land alienation issues for a long time and is opposed to the Polavaram dam) makes things worse for Suramma and others. In Polavaram, there are others who have allegedly broken the law and are liable to be arrested any time, including a Communist Party of India (Marxist) organiser, Banerji, and two others from Chegondapally, Ravi and Sunnam Raju, among others. Things there seem to be at a political head, at least for those who are openly critical of the dam.

Resettlement and Rehabilitation?

Let me move on to another part of the problem where there is no ostensible “political” reason for slapping cases against anyone who opposes the dam. In these parts, the tribal communities suffer on account of the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package of Polavaram dam meant for them. The charges filed against them are almost similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Take for instance, a frail old (around 70 years) Ekka Rajanna Dora who was charged for “criminal trespass” (section 353 IPC) for “obstructing officials on duty”. He is a Koya dora farmer who cultivates one acre (or even less) of the

Economic and Political Weekly June 23, 2007


Economic and Political Weekly June 23, 2007

community-held tribal land in M Ravilanka in Indukur panchayat in the Devipatnam mandal of the East Godavari district. His “crime”? He had made the mistake of questioning the RDO who started digging up his land, which has now been handed over as part of the “land-for-land” package for tribal farmers of Bodigudem, Paragasanapadu and D Ravilanka – among the first to “settle” in the R&R colony in Pedabhimpally in Indukur panchayat. This is ‘patta’ land now being handed over to the tribal community settled in the R&R colony. The said RDO, Ch Narsing Rao (against whom there are numerous reports of corrupt practices appearing in local editions of prominent Telugu newspapers) incidentally, “purchased total land of

572.91 acres situated in the scheduled areas of Addateegala, Gangavaram, Devipatnam mandal in the East Godavari district from non-tribals in the name of Polavaram project rehabilitation through 49 land transactions and paying more than Rs 2 crore in utter violation of laws, particularly the Tribal Protective Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 70 and the Panchayat Extension to the Schedule Areas (PESA) Act 40/1996 and Act 7/1998. The acquisition of land from non-tribals without even verifying physical possession of land or proper enquiry under tribal protective land transfer regulations has caused hardship to tribal communities in agency areas of the East Godavari district.” [affidavit ref A5/6068/06 dated 13-12-06 collectorate, Kakinada, camp at Rampachodavaram before the enquiry officer/joint collectorate, East Godavari district, ‘Illegal Land Purchases’ by revenue divisional officer, Rampachodavaram].

The idea that some sacrifices have to be made for development by some communities has percolated to the officials and local representatives. Many officials are now speaking this language.

A price must be paid for development. “Tappadu mari”, say a lot of people I meet these days. Democratic consent seems to be a thing of the past. As far as the Andhra Pradesh government’s land acquisition for the Polavaram project R&R goes, leave alone the planning and implementing of the project itself, if the land acquisition were totally honest and transparent, why was there a need to impose cases on some people in these areas for even raising questions, which is their basic right? Pamula Veearasamy of Chinabhimpally in Devipatnam mandal (Indukur panchayat) is a frail 75-year old Koya dora elder. Like many of his tribe, he makes a supplementary livelihood by collecting cashew nuts from the forest land that he believed to be his, like members of his community have been doing for centuries now. He was beaten up severely (just 10 days before I met him) when he went to collect some cashew nuts from this land. He was told that the land now belonged to a non-tribal (the RDO aforementioned) and had been given a compensation for the R&R package of Polavaram. Until such time as the project is completed, the non-tribal landlord would own the produce from this forest patch, until the date used/“enjoyed” (in official parlance) by the tribal community of this panchayat. The tribal communities in this part of Devipatnam mandal are victims of another kind of “submergence”, the R&R package that sets one tribal community against the other – not something that they desire. These tribal people stand to be displaced from their livelihood, land and forests even before the dam is built. If they are to question any of this, the officials are ready with a list of criminal allegations that they can slap on these hapless people. It is a case of “resettlement” of one section by unsettling another. Both ways, any kind of questioning is likely to result in a jail term.

“The project officer (PO), Rampachodavaram, Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), asked us not to go to the land (and forests) purchased by the RDO”, says one Koya dora farmer. One of the R&R colonies is built on disputed land, belonging to Indukur people. Even as the case is in court, the colony has been built and tribal communities settled there. Midiam Singaraju of Chegondapally says, “They are simply filing the cases against us; how can we leave this village before entire process of rehabilitation is completed? We know what we have here, this we won’t get anywhere else. But what do we do? They are putting up many cases. We do not understand them... Even my name is there. Midiam Singarajau. I am not even a part of the (Rythu Coolie) Sangham!”

Now that even those opposed to the project are under scrutiny, people are gradually learning to stay quieter than before. At least this is true of the majority of them. This has strengthened the government’s resolve to implement the project.

Says Kosi Ramalakshmi, “The PO, ITDA, Rampachodavaram told us that the British people are responsible for giving us this land. They committed the crime. Now the present government is righting that wrong! We brought these plantations to their present shape. We looked after these forests. We lost some of this when the Musirimilli canal was dug. They have put up cases against us for using these plantations. Our four acre (community) land was dug up by the RDO, and the sub-inspector. They did not compensate us for that. Non-tribals from Tuthikonda and Gokavaram are coming here and expressing their rights to these cashew plantations”.

Pamula Veerasamy’s first information report for having been beaten up was not registered. Says Rambabu, a legal coordinator with the Human Rights Centre of the organisation Laya, “When tribal people complain, the PO should recommend their cases to the mandal revenue officer. This is not being done. If non-tribals make the same complaint, cases are immediately filed against the tribal communities”. Says Komaram Mulasamy (ex-sarpanch of the Indukur panchayat). “We have to spend money to file cases against this illegal land acquisition going to Rajahmundry, and Rampachodavaram [a few human rights activists do take up their cases but cannot do so for all of them]. There is no response for any of our petitions yet.”

Meanwhile, Kangala Naganna Dora from Paragasanapadu in Pudipally panchayat is sitting in his R&R house in Pedabhimpally. He says that for the last six months he has not got the promised the rehabilitation package. He spends Rs 30 or more per day to go to his village in Paragasanapadu to his fields and back. Some of the people are still in the village. For them, at the moment, life is about living two lives – one in their original village and another in the R&R colony without any means of livelihood. They cannot yet stake claims to the land given to them by the RDO, since that land is under “enjoyment” (a term used by the British, and continues to be used) by Koya doras here. Floods in 2006 caused them to move to this colony.

Chadala Venkatreddi, a Kondareddi from Nellakota says, “If we took our bows and arrows like Aluri Sitaramaraju, will the PO (ITDA), the government still ignore us? We are all unarmed and helpless. Hence, they are filing cases against us and doing what they want.”

Meanwhile, a tourist launch touring Papikondalu reminds its tourist visitors of the great act of courage of Alluri Sitaramaraju who bombed the police station at Devipatnam. That was history. But the present story goes on.



[This article is written as part of the author’s workfor the Prem Bhatia Memorial Trust fellowship2006-07.]

Economic and Political Weekly June 23, 2007

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