Andhra capital row shatters Amaravati farmers' dreams

As darkness envelops Andhra Pradesh's Mandaram village, men and women are seen in a huddle after another day of protest, discussing the latest developments, and chalking out the next day's programme.

For nearly two weeks, anger and unrest has gripped Mandaram and 28 other villages of Guntur district in south coastal Andhra Pradesh.

It looks as if a death has occurred in every family. With anxiety writ large on their faces, they are staging noisy protests during the day, spending sleepless nights and not even cooking food.

The distress caused by their shattered dreams and pain have overtaken the anger and uproar among 24,000 farmer families. The Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government's move to dump Amaravati as the only capital and develop Visakhapatnam and Kurnool as administrative and judicial capitals respectively has dashed all their hopes of bright future after giving away 33,000 acres of land five years ago.

The three-capital proposal came as a bolt from the blue for the farmers relying on the mega plans of then Chandrababu Naidu government to build Amaravati on the banks of Krishna river as the dream capital and a world-class city, whose design was prepared by Singapore government.

Ever since Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) lost power to YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in May, an atmosphere of uncertainty prevailed due to controversial decisions of the new government and with experts' panel in its report submitted to the government last week recommending three capital, the farmers' worst fears came true.

The panel suggested setting up of only Assembly and Raj Bhavan in Amaravati and that too at another location away from Thullur block, where few multi-storied structures have come up to serve as the residential quarters of legislators, senior bureaucrats and offices of various departments.

The real estate market, which was booming till early this year, came crashing with the land value falling by more than 50 per cent. With the new government hitting the pause button on all ongoing works citing irregularities committed during the previous regime, thousands of workers including a large number migrants from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were rendered jobless.

Farmers, who voluntarily gave lands ranging from half-an-acre to 50 acres, are left in the lurch. They believe that Jagan Mohan Reddy is doing all this out of vengeance towards Chandrababu Naidu.

"If insider trading has happened as being alleged by Jagan, let him investigate and send Chandrababu to jail but what crime have we committed to suffer like this?" asked E. Shivaiah, a farmer of Nekkalu village.

"Did we elect this government to treat us like this? We had given land hoping for a better future for our children," the 57-year-old farmer told at Thullur block headquarters. He gave his two acre land for the capital.

"I gave my land to the government not to Chandrababu or to any party. I did this as the government assured us a bright future," said A. Nageshwar Rao, another farmer who gave one acre land.

For every acre cultivable land, the farmers were promised 1,000 square yards of residential plot and 250 square yards of commercial plot with all the infrastructure. Almost all the farmers received the allotment papers but their dreams of owning developed plots remained on paper with the change of guard. They were also promised Rs 50,000 annuity per acre with annual hike of 10 per cent.

Farmers have challenged the government's three capital proposal in the High Court while continuing the protests, seeking intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had laid the foundation stone for the capital in 2015.

"If you shift administrative capital to Visakhapatnam, what will be left here?" asked farmers who are demanding that full-fledged capital remain in Amaravati.

Those who had invested in small businesses to benefit from expected boom are also devastated.

"I am 50 year old but I have never seen a chief minister like this. A Chief Minister should do something good for people not to snatch their livelihood and do injustice," said M. Srinivas Rao of Thullur.

He was earlier working as a tenant farmer but later opened a small road-side eatery. As the business activity increased in the area, he invested Rs 5 lakh to set up a hotel and employed four workers.

"In these six months my debts have mounted to Rs 3 lakh. I am unable to pay the rent and the wages to the workers. I don't know what to do. I am thinking of migrating to another place for livelihood."

The experts' panel has even recommended to the government to keep only the required land with itself and return the remaining to the farmers. They, however, say the soil, which was once very fertile, was no longer fit for cultivation.

"Soil is gold for a farmer. Where is my soil. Let them give it back to me in the same form," said Nageshwar Rao, who earlier used to grow cotton, chilli and turmeric.

He said the fields were levelled, dug, filled with concrete and stones to build roads, lay pipelines and create other infrastructure. "I can't go back to agriculture even if the government gives me six acres of land," he said.

"Let them return my 15-year-old lemon trees. They destroyed everything and now talking of returning the land," said J. Yesuba, who was a tenant farmer and now runs a small tea stall with his wife in Rayapudi village.

"Even the tea stall business dropped by 50 per cent in six months," he said.


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