The suicide of a 36-year-old farmer has triggered massive protests by thousands of villagers, including women and children, against the proposed master plan for the district headquarters of Kamareddy, drawing the entire State’s attention and bringing the non-descript villages into the limelight.
On the intervening night of January 3/4, Payyavula Ramulu, a small farmer of Adloor Yellareddy village in Sadashivanagar mandal of Kamareddy district took his own life by hanging.
He took the extreme step out of the fear that he won’t be able to sell his farmland after the authorities notified the master plan for the District Headquarters Town that brought into its purview several adjoining villages and fertile farmlands, including his.
While proximity to the nearest town offers several advantages to land owners, Ramulu feared losing his farmland to be taken away in the name of development.
Ramulu and his brother Narender owned a mere two-acre land, but being in the proximity of the district headquarters, the value of the land was high. The brothers constructed modest RCC houses next to each other on a single plot.
Ramulu is survived by wife Sharada, and two sons – Abhinand (16) and Nishant (12).
Ironically, the two-acre land is still in the name of their mother Narsavva, aged about 60 years. “Having land in the name of mother would offer her a sort of security in her old age. In rural areas, usually, the land would be partitioned between the children only when the parents grow very old,” said R. Bhoopati, a neighbour of Ramulu.
“Ramulu tried to sell his share of land by convincing his mother. Someone even came forward to buy the land but they dropped out after the Master Plan issue came to light,” said Farmers Joint Action Committee (JAC), convenor Akula Vithal.
“My brother was worried about the future as he didn’t know what to do. Not just he, even we all are facing the same problem. He was unable to bear the stress and took the extreme step,” said Mr. Narender.
Similar is the story of Kummari Rajaiah from the same village, who owns a five-acre farmland located on the outskirts of Ilchipur village. “I will lose all my land if the master plan is implemented. Many farmers are in the same situation as mine,” he rued.
Bolt from the blue
Adding to the misery, Marripally Balakrishna, another farmer from Rameshwarapally attempted suicide by consuming pesticide on January 17, even as the JAC was holding a meeting at Old Rajampet to chalk out the future action plan.
Given the proposed master plan and the move that could lead to the acquisition of their farmlands, farmers in the region are worried about the fate of their lands. The draft notification was enough to scare the villagers and what happened in the last 10 days is a testimony to the sense of insecurity that had taken over them.
The entire state was forced to look at Kamareddy town in the first week of this month when a large number of farmers agitated against the proposed master plan.
The district administration, police and even the politicians did not imagine the protest demonstration of a group of villagers on January 5th at the Kamareddy Collectorate would grab such attention, forcing not only the authorities but political parties to scurry for cover.
The agitators wanted to submit a memorandum to the Kamareddy Collector Jitesh V. Patil. But the police anticipating trouble, erected barricades to prevent the surging agitators. The protest went on till late at night with a surcharged atmosphere and the police trying their best to convince the agitators but to no avail.
On January 6th tension prevailed at Kamareddy when BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar visited Ramulu’s house and met the agitating farmers. At one point in time, the police canned the farmers. However, the support for the farmers grew with each passing day, culminating in a meeting in Lingapur on January 12, where it was resolved to oppose the master plan. This move by the farmers caught the politicians on a sticky wicket.
Sensing that they would lag behind if they did not rally behind the farmers, BJP MLA M. Raghuandandan Rao, former Congress Minister Shabber Ali and others have extended their support to agitating farmers.
The show of strength by the agitated farmers had such an impact that the ruling BRS party Vice-chairperson of the municipality and 14 ward councillor G. Indupriya Chandra Shekar Reddy wrote a letter to the Municipal Commissioner on January 14th, requesting to cancel the 80-feet and 100-feet roads, and the green zone under the master plan in Devunipally and Lingapur outskirts. Stating that they are ready to sail with farmers, she said she would not hesitate to resign if their demand was unmet.
Sankranti painted in protests
The unrelenting farmers want nothing short of the withdrawal of the proposal and they have decided to intensify their agitation. Their anger is such that they used Sankranti, a major harvest festival, to express their ire.
In a novel act, the women and children used Rangoli art to get their message across to the authorities. The rangolis has messages like “Cancel the Master Plan,” “No farmer - No food,” “Farmer has to win- farming has to continue,” and “You enjoy in your homes by laying industries in our fields. Government, MLA and Municipal Officials- Is this justified?”
Collector Jitesh V. Patil and MLA G. Govardhan assured that lands growing two crops would not be included in the master plan. “They told this in a press conference and we are hoping that they keep their word,” responded Kummari Rajaiah
In a move to seek comfort, the farmers filed a stay petition in the Telangana High Court. On hearing the petitions filed by the farmers in the second week of this month, the High Court refused to pass an interim order to stay the plan and directed the State Government to file a counter-petition and adjourned the case to January 25th.
Presenting arguments on behalf of the government, Advocate General has informed the High Court that the Government would consider the objections filed by the farmers before finalising the master plan.
Simultaneously, feeling humiliated about the lathicharge, the farmers approached the Telangana State Human Rights Commission (TSHRC) and filed a complaint on January 13th accusing the police who had allegedly lathicharged them on January 6, when they tried to submit a memorandum to the Collector.
The Master Plan does not mention any compensation for the lands taken by the government as this was aimed at development that would benefit the public.
“As per my knowledge, there would be no compensation for the land or structures that would be taken for the development of the town under the Master Plan. Even for laying roads, there would be no compensation and was not offered in the past as well,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
Whatever the outcome, the agitation by the farmers has rattled the political parties who are at the receiving end in this whole issue and are worried about how the mood of the villagers might change. One has to wait and watch whether the farmers will have the last laugh as the Government can ill afford to rub the villagers on the wrong side during the election year.