The riverbed agony

The riverbed agony

The politically divided media in Telugu land presents a diametrically opposite picture of the prevailing situation in the capital region of Andhra...

The politically divided media in Telugu land presents a diametrically opposite picture of the prevailing situation in the capital region of Andhra Pradesh.

A section of the media sympathetic to the ruling party in the State avers that farmers in this proposed capital region are enthusiastically coming forward to hand over their lands to the government, while the media opposed to the ruling party paints a different picture. According to this media, people are completely averse to the idea of locating a capital on their lands.

But, the reality lies in between. A visit to this region starting from Guntur to Vijayawada passing through Tadikonda, Pedaparimi, Thullur, Rayapudi, Penumaka and Undavalli presents a picture of agony and acceptance. One would see even the boards erected by the locals in the riverbed villages clearly, opposing the land pooling. The situation can be aptly summarized as Jaribu versus Regadi. The riverbed lands are called in local dialect as Jaribu lands, while Regadi refers to dry land areas.

Farmers in the riverbed stretch especially comprising nine villages are strongly resisting the proposed land pooling. These villages include Undavalli, Penumaka, Venkatapalem, Rayapudi, Mandadam, Uddandarayunipalem, Lingayapalem, Abbarajupalem and Borupalem. This stretch can extend to Vaikuntapuram, too, if government expands its land pooling plans.

On the contrary, the farmers in Thullur, Tadikonda and Pedaparimi etc. are agreeing to land pooling. They are convinced after the government revised the land pooling packages. However, the landless and the tenant farmers are obviously concerned.

The riverbed economy is completely different from that of the uplands. This stretch extending to nearly 18 km in length and 2-3 km in width has fertile lands. Water is available at 10-15 feet depth. Farmers here grow three to four crops in a year due to abundant availability of water and market in Vijayawada. Local people tell us that more than 120 varieties of horticulture crops are grown on these lands.

For instance, banana and bitter gourd are cultivated simultaneously. These varieties are even popular across India. For instance, the Rayapudi Lemon has market as far as Delhi and even abroad. Rayapudi Guava is similarly popular. But, the local farmers told us that this variety is now defunct due to virus caused by pollution due to the nearby thermal power station.

Now, the political virus due to capital dream would lead to extinction of Rayapudi Lemon which contains as much as 60 per cent water and has long shelf life. The workers at the lemon procurement centre at Penumaka say that 400 bags of lemon are loaded every day in just four shops. These agricultural lands are a source of livelihood for thousands of labourers who throng this area from as far as Rajahmundry and even North coastal Andhra districts.

Agriculture here is employment-intensive due to cultivation of horticulture crops throughout the year.

Despite at a 10-km distance from sprawling city of Vijayawada, these villages have no signs of urban life. So, any skill development to them after displacement is not so easy task. The local farmers also point out the fact that the food security of Vijayawada would be endangered if these agriculturally rich lands are included in land pooling. Of course, the new capital city would also require supply of fruits and vegetables.

The people in these riverbed villages are also raising yet another pertinent question. There is no plan yet ready. They are not sure whether Assembly or Secretariat would come up on their lands. The fear is that these fertile lands are pooled to provide a river view to corporate installations like star hotels, convention centers, etc. This would only be known after the master plan is ready.

Why should the government pool these costly lands for corporate sector despite such serious resistance? Instead, the companies can directly negotiate with farmers which would fetch much higher price for the land owners.

Capital near water source should not be confused with water-front capital. Capital can still be constructed leaving the riverbed villages. Krishna river and Kondaveeti Vagu can be harnessed to meet the water requirements of the new capital, even if these riverbed lands are excluded from land pooling.

It may be worth noting here that there is already a talk of declaring these villages as Green Zone. But, this is used to prepare the local farmers for land pooling. Instead it can be an alternate proposal to preserve rich agriculture and can also be a major ambiance for the new capital.

The problem is compounded by the nature of land ownership here. There is a large prevalence of absentee landlordism here. Tenant farming is practiced in a very big way. Land for Land can only benefit the land owners. The loss of livelihood cannot be compensated by the offer of social security.

The government would now move for land pooling after the enactment of CRDA. The agony of Jaribu or riverbed villages would be tough task for the government to handle.

By: Prof K Nageshwar

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