This village vows against voting for TRS over land row
The mood in Vemulaghat, a sleepy village in Thoguta block, Siddipet district, Telangana is one of anger against the K Chandrashekar Rao-led government. A majority of the 4,000odd villagers has taken a vow not to vote for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi in the December 7 assembly elections.
The villagers have been at war with the state government since June 2016, when it decided to acquire their land for the construction of the Mallannasagar reservoir as part of the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation scheme on the Godavari River.
The reservoir, proposed to be constructed at a cost of ~9,800 crore, will have a capacity to store 50 thousand million cubic feet (tmc) of water which will be used to irrigate 12 lakh acres in Siddipet, Medak and Ranga Reddy districts.
The reservoir will displace nearly 30,000 people in eight major villages and six other hamlets and submerge 21,000 acres of rich agricultural land. Vemulaghat is the biggest village among those affected and will lose at least 5,300 acres of land. It is also the only village which has held out against the state’s overtures and threats.
“For the last two years, our village has been virtually under siege by police. We braved arrests, lathi-charges and cases, but we did not give up our fight. They managed to lure some of our villagers and forced them to sign documents transferring their land to the government, but a majority has refused to give up,” said Srinivas Reddy, former sarpanch of Vemulaghat.
The villagers of Vemulaghat know that they cannot stop the Mallannasagar project. “We have been asking for a fair compensation under the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. But the TRS government initially sought to acquire land through an administrative order (GO No. 123); after the high court struck it down, it brought in its own land acquisition act which was nothing but a modified version of the earlier government order,” Reddy added.
The government offered ~6 lakh per acre as compensation, but the villagers are demanding at least three times that as per the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. “Ours is a fertile land and we raise three crops a year. Even this season, we got good paddy crop in more than 300 acres, besides cotton, maize and other crops,” explained Narasimha Reddy, a farmer.
While continuing the battle in the courts, the villagers have been on a relay hunger strike since June 4, 2016 in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the village. On Friday, the hunger strike entered its 888th day. “We did not let up our fight even for a day and we shall continue it till we achieve our goal,” said Srisailam, one of the agitators.
With elections round the corner, villagers have got an opportunity to give vent to their anger. “In 2014, we supported the TRS, but this time, we have made a collective decision not to vote for it,” said Vinay, a student activist.
The TRS, which has been way ahead of the opposition parties in the election campaign, has not come to this village so far. “They cannot come here to seek votes. They know our reaction,” Vinay said.
TRS candidate for Dubbak constituency under which the village comes S Ramalinga Reddy said he had gone to the village a couple of months ago but not after campaigning began. “Nevertheless, we have our party workers from the village who are campaigning. The response from the people in submergence villages is not as bad as is being projected.”
Locals have been at war with the government since it decided to acquire their land to construct Mallannasagar reservoir.