By Reshmi AR
Have you ever spotted stars in the sky during the day? Well, not if you live on planet Earth. It's like a Hindu priest showing the Arundathi star to a newly married couple. Not an easy exercise. But wait. All hope is not lost… for, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu has mastered the art of achieving that as he has promised the moon to the residents of his state. The worst hit are farmers who, after losing all their lands, their only source of livelihood are now looking for alternative sources of income. How did they lose their land? It's a long story. But we have begin somewhere, right?
The story so goes that after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into two states—residuary AP and Telangana, the former no doubt got a raw deal. But the TDP chief believed that he was bestowed with the superpower of magically turning AP into a paradise overnight or so he declared. He announced that he would invite town planners from Singapore to make the AP capital a world class city. Without even consulting the other stakeholders (read political parties), he unilaterally picked Amaravati to be the place for the capital of the residual state.
How he went about this is in itself, a case study in deception. Chandrababu and his party leaders first pointed to other places as the likely location for the new capital including Nuzvid and Nagarjuna University region. Even as people started investing in land in these areas sending real estate prices soaring, the TDP government quietly zeroed in on Amravati.
The next task was to acquire (which he calls pooling) fertile lands from farmers in exchange for some benefits. The farmers would use these fertile farmlands to grow vegetables, flowers and other crops. The chief minister chose more than 30,000 acres of private land and 20,000 acres of government land in the region to build the 'world class' capital city, he had in his imagination. It's another thing that even four years of his coming to power, you find nothing but foundation stones scattered around the place.
The Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (AP CRDA) has offered 250-450 sq. ft of commercial land and 1,000 sq. ft of residential land to those who give their lands for land pooling to build the capital. The government is also offering an additional Rs 30,000 per acre (dry land) and Rs 50,000 per acre (fertile land) every year for a decade. The government has also promised an appreciation of 10% on a yearly basis.
While some farmers readily gave up their lands so as to avoid getting into the bad books of the ruling party, a few others in Penumaka and Undavalli villages near Vijayawada refused to part with their lands. The Andhra Pradesh government was forced to seek a legal course and invoked the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013. The farmers successfully got an interim stay order on the land pooling process. The case is expected to come up for hearing on January 19. Interestingly, of the 29 villages marked for capital development, only two villages have rebelled against the government. The farmers here feel that the money paid by the government is a pittance when compared to the benefits they reap having the lands with them. One of the farmers from Undavalli, Boraiah said: "The lands are fertile, the water level is good and the crops get us a good price. This is for life. Why would we give up something that can keep us happy for life for momentary pleasure? What would we do after we finish spending all this money?" Incidentally, the area marked for building the capital city in these 29 villages earned AP the title rice bowl of India.
Another farmer who grows maize and turmeric echoes his thoughts and adds that he won’t give up his land at any cost. However, the AP CRDA is going all out to convince these farmers to part with their lands.
Also, farmers hailing from Penumaka and Undavalli feel that the market price of these lands is much higher than what the government is offering. These two villages are closer to Vijayawada, a Tier II city. While this is the story of the rebellious farmers, the others who have given up their lands fearing land acquisition are now left in the lurch. The AP CRDA has so far collected nearly 90% of the targeted land with approximately 28,000 farmers parting with their lands, according to a report published last year.
The woes of AP farmers don't end there. Several farmers, both tenant farmers and land owners are now resorting to migration. They are now moving to border areas around Karnataka and Odisha to find greener pastures. Packing off their clothes and other household stuff, several daily wage agriculatural labourers who would once work for farmers are left jobless by the government move to snatch away lands. With no jobs in hand, they are migrating to other places to find alternate means of livelihood. "Our land owners don't have to worry about livelihood as they are getting houses and other benefits. But we don't own any lands so we are forced to find employment elsewhere. We don't even know what kind of work awaits us," says Narsamma who has lived in AP’s Tadepalli all her life. The worst affected are the kids of the migrants who accompany their parents to work for some extra income. Rues Sailoo, a contract workers: "We had a regular source of income here so we could afford to send our kids to school. Now, we are not so sure. It's a new place and everything is new, who can we trust?" The story of migrant labourers in Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu would be a case study for researchers. It would reveal how farmers and farm workers turned into daily wage labourers and were forced to migrate to other places in search of livelihood.
It's also pertinent to note here that the TDP government chose to turn a blind eye to the Sivaramakrishnan Expert Committee Report. The special committee was constituted by the Centre on 28 March, 2014. It may be recalled that the committee had recommended that the government exclude the Krishna delta region. One of the reasons cited was use of cultivated lands which constitutes 55% of the area chosen to build the capital.
Another farmer from Tulluru, Venkateswara Reddy is furious with the government for cheating the agricultural community. He says his was a fertile land in which he grew paddy, bananas, cereals and turmeric from which he earned at least over a lakh a month. And the government is offering a mere Rs 50,000 for fertile lands alone. What came as a shock to him is the government classifying his land as dry region. Another farmer Narsingh says: "I want to know on what basis the government called my land dry when I have been cultivating this for years and minting gold. This is a technique they are using to fool us and buy lands at cheap prices."
The farmers in these villages may not have a fancy qualification to boast of, but they are definitely not dumb. As one of the onlookers who identified himself as Devudu says, "This is our bread and butter so we know what we are talking about. If the government thinks they can take us for a ride because we live in villages, they are mistaken."
While a few are forced to let go of their lands to avoid legal hassles, the most tragic situation is of those leaving their place of birth to make ends meet. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister who calls himself the senior most politician has little regard for the lives of poor people. Shouldn't his experience equip him with better ways to tackle such situation? But then by now we have seen that Chandrababu Naidu is blind to reality. His vision is limited to the bubble of his own making he lives in.
For the greed of money, the TDP supremo has put the lives of these poor farmers in jeopardy. Now, they are in a big dilemma—whether to take the chief minister's words at face value and wait for things to turn better or migrate to an unknown place and start life from the scratch. For now, the fate of these scores of farmers is in a limbo. One thing is clear—AP's dream capital Amaravati is being built at the expense of poor farmers who bear the brunt of a so called sunrise city which is still waiting to happen.