Etcherla, Srikakulam district: I began my Padayatra today after paying my homage to the memory of the architect of our Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar, on the occasion of his death anniversary. The sterling contribution of Dr Ambekar for the welfare of the weak and the downtrodden came to mind.  It is a matter of pride to me that my father had envisioned a university in the name of the great Dr Ambedkar here at Etcherla.

While I was passing from in front of the university in the evening,students, lecturers and staff welcomed me with great warmth. They vented their fury at the TDP government which did not bother to make appointments.

Representatives from the Ambedkar Seva Samiti and Jai Bheem Yuva Jana Sangham met me. They narrated to me the incident involving the desecration of Dr Ambedkar‘s statue at Kothavalasa village. They also told me how Janmabhoomi committee members had stalled development work in the Kanimetta SC Colony. They pointed out that funds had already been approved under SC/ST sub-plan and yet development work was blocked by Janmabhoomi committee members.

Villagers from Mushinivalasa were irate that 5 acres of land on which more than 30 SC families had been cultivating crops for over 4 decades had been dug up in the name of Neeru Chettu programme by Janmabhoomi committee members of the ruling party and merged as a part of the lake. The neglect of Ambedkar University, desecration of his statues and the atrocities being committed by extra-constitutional bodies across the state—these point to the manner in which the ruling party has thumbed its nose at the Constitution, as does the brazen manner in which it bought opposition MLAs of the YSRCP, much like cattle. Is this the respect the TDP has for the Constitution? This is the question that arises in one’s mind.

Members of the potter community told me near Lolugu that Titli cyclone victims had not received any relief or compensation from the TDP government. Villagers belonging to Kesavadaspuram and Narsapuram told me how industrial waste from a nearby chemical factory was ruining the lives of locals and affecting their health. Kidney ailments and cancer had become widespread in this area, they lamented and said that there fertile lands were turning sterile.

Youth from Odisha met me and told me that they had great admiration for my father. They said that they had adopted his pioneering healthcare initiative, Arogyasri and 108 services in their state. I feel proud of the fact that these pioneering schemes introduced by my father were admired and emulated in other states and won international acclaim.

An incident which highlighted the atrocities of the Janmabhoomi committee members came to my notice today. In Pondur mandal, right after the TDP came to power, pensions of 880 eligible people were suddenly withdrawn at the behest of local Janmabhoomi committee members. How inhuman is it on their part to say that the disabled who are bedridden are not differently-abled!  How cruel is it to portray the living as dead and to withdraw the pension of a widow claiming her husband is alive? Amanamma repeatedly told officials that she was very much alive, but to no avail.  She had to go to court in the end. Metta Lakshmi, a widow was told that her husband was alive and her pension was withdrawn. She told them that she did not require the pension, but asked them to produce her husband and said as much in her submission to the court. The judges who were shocked to learn about such instances pulled up the government on this count.

The court directed that 498 such individuals should be given their pensions along with arrears. Even while this legal battle had been going on, about 40 such beneficiaries passed away. While this is a slap in the face of the ruling party leaders, is it fair to deny pensions to the deserving on such grounds? Is the government not responsible for their deaths which were a direct result of its unjust actions? What response can it offer to members of their families?

I have a question for the chief minister—in districts across the state thousands of affected individuals have had to go to court to get there pensions restored. Is this not shameful? Is it not true that others who could not go to court add up two lakh individuals? Is it not self-deception on your part to claim that pensions are being given to all eligible people in the state?  Your propaganda claiming that no one is being denied pensions amounts to rank deception doesn’t it?

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