The Maharashtra police foiled an attempt by a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) delegation led by N. Chandrababu Naidu to visit the disputed Babli project by obstructing and arresting the latter on the Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border here on Friday.

In all, 74 leaders of TDP including 50 MLAs, MLCs and MPs led by Mr. Naidu, were arrested when they tried to enter Maharashtra territory crossing the barricades set up by that State police. They were taken to Dharmabad police station in Nanded district. Several woman legislators were also among the arrested.

TDP leaders left Hyderabad earlier in the day in a convoy of buses and cars to inspect Babli, one of the 14 projects being built by Maharashtra across the Godavari, which Andhra Pradesh says are in violation of the Chief Minister's treaty between the two States. They refused to leave the police station even after being let off demanding that they be allowed to visit Babli project along with mediapersons. They accused the Maharashtra police of deceiving them after an assurance that they would be escorted to Babli.

Before their arrest, the TDP leaders staged a dharna on the border for about 90 minutes. Mr. Naidu and other leaders squatted on the road and raised slogans demanding that the police allow them to proceed to Babli.

Mr. Naidu condemned the “unconstitutional attitude” of Maharashtra and sought to know whether the elected representatives of a neighbouring State would require passport and visa to enter Maharashtra. “We didn't come here for war or to create trouble as we are law-makers and not law-breakers,” Mr. Naidu said . The TDP had been fighting the issue of Babli for the last five years and by visiting the project now, they planned to report the actual position to Prime Minister, he said.

He explained that the illegal project of Maharashtra was threatening the future of 18 lakh-acre ayacut under SRSP in North Telangana districts. Lack of water had already denied farmers the kharif and rabi crops for the last two seasons leading to dispute between Karimnagar and Warangal districts. Babli was also creating drinking water problem in the areas downstream of Godavari, he pointed out.

Sonia draws flak

Blaming the Congress for the problems in SRSP command area, Mr. Naidu accused AICC president Sonia Gandhi of colluding with Maharashtra in the issue. Although the TDP extended an invitation to all political parties, including the Congress, to join the bus yatra, representatives of the Lok Satta alone participated.