On the first day, Charles Wesley of the National Dalit Alliance gave us a brief introduction to the land issue in the state of Andhra Pradesh. On record, the state carried out its land-reform in 1955, but in reality, large sections of the population (Dalits and Adivasis) do not own land. The recent laws like the one about Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have been alienating people from land.
We began our Yatra in Andhra Pradesh with a visit to Srihari Kota colony, a community affected by SRI City SEZ. The community spent several years in clearing the forest and in making the land cultivatable. These efforts were objected to by the forest department but an intervention from the collector and a change in classification of this area from forest land to revenue land in 1971 helped them in making this land cultivatable. The land was very fertile. They could cultivate 3 crops in a year. They were able to cultivate all kinds of vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains and lentils. The area has about 12 feet of red soil.
In 2006 their lands were taken away by APSIIC (Andhra Pradesh State Industrial Infrastructure Corporations) for an SEZ called SRI City. Land was acquired from 16 villages. Because the SEZ was a public-private-partnership, in places where communities resisted the acquisition, communities were offered an additional 1 Lakh per acre by the private partners and the government turned a blind eye to such practices. In some cases, Mr. T. Seshaiah says, the government officials even collaborated in such practices. Each time the families organized themselves they were attacked by the goons hired by the SEZ. Mr. Ravi, the state coordinator of the Samwaad Yatra said that anywhere between 3000-4000 families are affected by this SEZ.
The first visit of the next 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 a 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. The village had at one time 2000 acres but now the cattle are being sold off as all the grazing land has been sold off or taken over by the SEZ.
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. area. Until 3 years ago, they worked in the fields as agricultural labor and also caught fish in the river. The building of the port in Krishnapatna has devasted their lives and livelihoods.
Meeting in the evening with Yenadi Colony at Krishnapatnam port
The Yatra entered Ulupdu (Prakasam), where Dalit Bahujan Vayavasaya Karmik Sangha and other local organizations organized a public meeting. About 100 leaders of Ynadi (nomad) community and fisherfolk raised their voices for their forgotten rights over land and fishing.
The Yatra next visited the Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation, where a proposed power plant will be built in the area in Prakasam in year 2006. The villagers of Kanpattipalam panchyat are extremely angry with the aggressive attitude of the state. In the year 2009, about 2500 acres of land have been identified for the proposed power plant, which is being challenged by the farmers in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.. The proposed power project has the aim to produce 4000 MW with the huge investment of 22000 crore rupees. When villagers approached the court in 2009, they got the stay order on 17th March 2011. This gave a big boost for the entire movement. The villagers gave their full support for JSY and were willing to join the struggle.
The next morning meeting in Chirala started with a small gathering of 50 people belonging to the Yanadi community who walked in from Chinnagunjam village. They told the story about their 50 acres of land cultivated for the last 17 years. In 2008, local officials started to threaten the local villagers, trying to force them to leave the land. The villagers jointly appeared in court with the plea of regularization of their land under Darkhast title (enjoyment title) rules. Mr D Manual from Loksatta Udyava Sanstha is leading this struggle for the last 4 years. Even after repeated petitions they have not received any responses from the State. Later a big public hearing was called by Dalit Bahujan Front and other allies. About 500 people presented their testimonies to the panel. There were many sad cases of dispossession.
On the following day, the Dalit Bahujan Front called a big public meeting in the district headquarters of Guntur. The leader of DBF, Mr Vinay Kumar explained in detail about the success and failures of reforms in Andhra Pradesh. A big public hearing was called by Dalit Bahujan Front and other allies. About 500 people presented their testimonies to the panel.