Meeting at a temple in Menakuru village
The first visit of the day was to Menakuru village in Naidupeta mandal. This is a community dominated by weavers. A multi-purpose Special Economic Zone (SEZ) called Menakuru SEZ has come up in the area. It has divided the weaver community by offering them little money for the land and threatening them. Out of the 6500 acres that were acquired for the SEZ, 350 acres were agricultural land. Its farmers were able to cultivate 3 crops in a year. They said that they could harvest 40 bags of paddy, 30 bags of ground nut and 50 tons of sugar cane in 1 year. 4000 acres of the acquired lands were assigned lands that were allotted to people. These 4000 acres were lying vacant but the completion of the Telugu Ganga irrigation project would have made these lands fertile and cultivatable. This irrigation canal will now be used for industrial purposes. The community was promised 20 cents of land with assurance that the value of these 20 cents will grow exponentially due to urbanization of the area in the near future as a result of the SEZ. The people in the meeting said that this SEZ has been beneficial for some sections of society. Those people who owned the assigned land did not depend on the land for their survival and were happy with the compensation of 2.16 laces/acre whereas those who were dependant on the land got a raw deal. For the later, they were unable to purchase land at another place because the price of land in the area had skyrocketed. They were not even given the 20 cents of homestead land that was promised. So they have lost their only source of livelihood. The community is also concerned about the polluting industries that have come up. Pharmaceutical industries emit foul-smelling fumes and this is affecting the health of the community members. The village had at one time 2000 acres but now cattle is being sold off as all the grazing land has been sold off or taken over by the SEZ.
An apparel park has come up in the SEZ but instead of hiring youth from the community of weavers who are skilled in areas needed by the apparel part; youth from outside the area are trained and hired for these jobs. Even yesterday, as we were driving from Chinnamambattu we saw bus loads of youth transported from a Socks factory. Again, rather than training and hiring local youth, youth from outside the are given preference. The reason for this practice is the fear that local youth have greater sense of bonding and hence are more likely to unionize. We can see here a process of forced internal migration and breaking down of homogenous communities. There is a highly thought out design to break homogenous communities, force migration and these seem to be the initial steps of urbanization and industrialization.
A colony in Krishnapatnam
At a colony in Krishnapattnam port, Mr. Yedukondalu explained that there are 200 families each of them with 200 acres most of whom are Dalits and Adivasis. They were given ceiling surplus land in 1975. After cultivating the land for 5-10 years, they sold the land informally because there was no irrigation in the area. Some of them sold for as low as Rs 200 but on an average the land was sold at Rs. 2000-3000. Because assigned land cannot be sold, this transaction was not registered. Acquisition of land for Krishnapatna port began in 2006. Rs. 10-15 lacs were paid as compensation. However, it remained unclear who should get this money: Because the land was still in their name, the families would legally receive the compensation; but because they sold the land informally, and it was under the control of powerful people in the village, they received only 2-4 lacs where the new owners retailed Rs. 8-10 lacs. Now that they understood the value of land, the families occupied 300 acres in 2007. They will not give patta because government had notified the mandals and in notified mandals land distribution was not possible. Now, the families are willing to take compensation and move. However, they are unable to find agricultural labor jobs in the area.
Yenadi colony of Krishnapatnam
200 families live in the Yenadi colony. Until 3 years ago, they worked in the fields as agricultural labor and also caught fish in the river. They could make anywhere between 100-200 rupees a day. Back then, they were only 30 families, whereas today, they are 200 families. The 30 initial families got 80-90 cents of assigned land but they sold that land informally to other members of the village. According to Mr. Charles they sold the land because they did not understand the value of land. Even though, they sold their land, the ownership did not change in the records due to legal limitations.
Different people explain how the situation has evolved: Since the port came up, we have been fenced off. The canal was a back-water canal. As the river-mouth was closed off due to the port, the canal turned into sludge. We are unable to catch fish. We depend on the Buckingham canal but the catch from that canal is not sufficient for our needs. The land has also been acquired by Reliance Power. So that land is also cordoned off. Our access to the sea has also been cut off by the port. If we go to bury our dead, we are denied access to the land that leads to our burial grounds. If we want to take a dip in the ocean after a death in the family, we cannot do that. Our sources of livelihood have been destroyed. We cannot catch fish and we cannot work as agricultural labor. During the acquisition there was a compensation of 2 lacs per acre and this was split between the other owner and us. Now, because we are 4-5 brothers, each of us get somewhere between 10-20 thousand rupees. We worked for 5-6 months as cleaners of Lorries that carry iron-ore but now even that job is not available. There is so much pollution in the area that at least 2-3 members in each family have fever most of the time. We do not have drinking water. The sarpanch had dug 3 bore wells but the water is not potable. Please tell us, what can we do and where can we go? Even when we ask for help, no one is willing to support us. We are told that there is a package of 9 crores to rehabilitate us but we have no clue who decides on compensation. We do not even know whether the money has been spent or not. The fisherfolks got Rs. 76,0000 as compensation but the village elders tell us that whatever amount is allotted to us should be distributed among the entire village.
Meeting in the evening with Yenadi Colony at Krishnapatnam port