Telangana Protest: Villagers on Relay Fast For Over 150 Days
The villagers of Medak district are protesting against the construction of Mallannasagar Reservoir project.
For the last 152 days, villagers at Vemulaghat in Telangana’s Medak district have been on a continuous relay hunger strike, continuing their protests despite government pressure.
The object of the villagers’ protest is the Mallannasagar Reservoir project, proposed in July this year, to be constructed in Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s home district of Medak.
“We have been protesting continuously since the original notification for the project. There is a permanent police camp with one sub-inspector and 12 constables at our village,” says Hayatuddin, a teacher, and one of the residents of the village.
At the protest site, the villagers have set up a tent, where five to six men or women sit down each day for a 24-hour hunger strike, replaced by another group the next day.
A board at the site is updated every day with the names of the protesters for the day, and prominently marks off the number of days since the hunger strike began.
The Mallannasagar project, which seeks to divert water to drought-hit regions of the state, will submerge 14 villages in the district.
When the project was initially announced, large-scale protests broke out in eight of the 14 villages.
The village of Erravalli, which is also one of the villages adopted by KCR, became the epicentre of these protests, culminating in a lathicharge on 24 July that injured close to 50 villagers.
Seven of those villages have since caved in and agreed to give up their land.
Vemulaghat now remains the sole village that continues to protest.
The villagers allege that there have been sporadic incidents of violence when they have gathered to protest, with the police lathicharging them when their numbers have swelled.
Section 144 Imposed for 60 Days
“For over 60 days, they also imposed Section 144 in the village,” Hayatuddin adds.
Starting from 28 July, the state had imposed Section 144 in the village, until the high court ordered the prohibitory orders to be removed at the end of September.
On its part, the government has assured villagers a compensation of Rs 6 lakh for every acre of farmland and a 2-BHK house near Gajwel, in exchange for their house sites.
However, the villagers of Vemulaghat distrust the government's assurance, and are apprehensive of losing their existing houses and lands while the promised compensation gets caught in bureaucratic red tape.
The Legal Route
Besides the continuous hunger strike, the villagers have also taken to the legal route, actively filing petitions and memorandums against the government’s moves.
One of the biggest legal victories for the protesters came in August, when the Hyderabad High Court quashed GO 123.
While the state government had issued GOs 123 and 214 in September 2015, through which it sought to disburse compensation and rehabilitation, the villagers demanded that compensation be given according to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
The HC, while hearing the case, had said that GO 123 violated the 2013 Act, and ruled in favour of the villagers.
Last week, in another prominent development, the villagers also challenged a fresh notification for land acquisition issued by the state government on 29 September.
The petition questioned the notification, which reportedly invoked an ‘Urgency’ clause, reserved for emergency situations.
The petitioners claimed that the government had no legal right to invoke the clause, and alleged that it was doing so to evade proper rehabilitation and resettlement measures.
Demand For Better Compensation
The villagers have also submitted multiple RTI applications and petitions demanding to see the detailed project report (DPR), permissions taken so far for construction, the reservoir’s capacity, the quantum of land purchased, and other details related to the project.
It’s not that they are unwilling to give up their land, the villagers say. Their only demand is for better compensation according to prevailing market rates.
In a recent memorandum submitted to the District Revenue Officer, the farmers stated:
We came to know that our lands are officially valued between Rs 40,000 and Rs 50,000 per acre. This is very low and far less than the open market rate, which is anywhere between Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh per acre.
‘Opposition Sabotaging Project’
“We demand that market value of the land should be updated as per Section 30 of the LA Act, before the government issues another notification for the land,” Hayatuddin says.
The villagers are also demanding that the district authorities update their records as several “anomalies” were found in the notification issued in September.
Despite the long-standing protests, however, the government has refused to accept the grievances of the farmers as genuine. Instead, it is claiming that opposition parties are trying to sabotage the project by throwing up false obstacles.
Irrigation Minister T Harish Rao has alleged that Congress leaders were filing petitions with forged signatures in the name of deceased farmers of Vemulaghat.
Speaking at his constituency of Siddipet on Wednesday, he said that the Congress must support the development project and assist the government in providing water to villages, instead of giving them legal troubles.
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