Displaced, Flooded out: Polavaram Families Protest for Compensation, Resettlement
The displaced victims of the Polavaram dam project in Andhra Pradesh have been flooded out of their homes even before the resettlement process could be completed. The torrential rain between July and September washed away their homes and villages. While a few villages in low-lying areas had been evacuated, the oustees in several villages were still awaiting rehabilitation and resettlement.
The affected victims - mostly from tribal communities - held a protest on October 7 outside the Velerupadu Mandal Revenue Office (MRO) in Eluru district to demand immediate compensation for the damage (or loss) caused to their homes during the torrential rainfall in July.
Activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) joined the protests and demanded that the affected families be resettled in safe zones. Even though the construction on the dam began in 2004, activists say that only 80% of the work on the dam has been completed, while only 20% of affected families have been resettled so far.
Villages that lie at the Full Reservoir level, i.e. 45.75 contour (where the dam height is 150 ft), are considered safe. However, several villages lie between 41.5 contours (128 ft) and 45.75 contours. Due to the heavy rainfall in July, the villages were completely submerged, and the water level rose all the way up to the roofs of the houses. The YSRCP government announced a relief of only Rs 2,000 per family. Polavaram, Devipatnam, VR Puram, Kunavaram, and Kukunuru are the areas most affected by the immediate floods.
Speaking to NewsClick, Narender, a CPI(M) Eluru district committee member, said, “In the affected districts of the east Godavari and the west Godavari, there are nine mandals, 275 villages, and there are 10,900 families residing under the 41.5 contour. Between July and September this year alone, four instances of flooding have occurred. In the Velerupadu mandal, out of 2900 families, only 1,200 families got some compensation for the loss of their houses (from flooding). Others did not get a single penny.”
Seeking higher ground, the tribals have moved into makeshift homes in the nearby forest areas. Some have moved the girls in the family to a girls' hostel in a nearby village. However, they are waiting for compensation under the R&R package (resettlement and rehabilitation) and alternate government housing. As per the scheme, every affected family would get a package of Rs 6.50 lakhs (in case of non-tribes) and 6.80 lakhs (for tribes). However, not everyone will be adequately compensated for their losses.
A Ravi, a member of the agricultural workers union in Andhra Pradesh, spoke to NewsClick about the unfairness in the disbursal of compensation. He's also a member of the CPI(M) district committee in Eluru. He said, "We are working with displaced people from the start of the project. The tribals used to reside on atavi bhoomi (undocumented forest lands), where they lived off the forest produce and did agriculture for several generations. Non-tribals have patta bhoomi (land ownership documents) for which they will receive compensation. Now, many tribal families stand to lose out on compensation due to the absence of documents."
The activists claimed that not a single person from Kukunoor and Velerupadu mandals has received compensation for being ousted from their lands. Velerupadu and Kukunuru mandals are rich agricultural lands, but farmers feared floods and did not sow a single seed this season. They could have turned towards agriculture to sustain themselves, but now they are either unemployed or looking for work as daily wagers.
Although it is a Central government project, the State government will oversee the execution. The state would then have to claim reimbursement for expenses borne by them. However, the Andhra Pradesh government has cited a shortage of funds and expressed their inability to shoulder the entire responsibility of construction and resettlement. CM Jagan Mohan Reddy met with PM Modi in New Delhi in August this year and demanded that the project cost be revised to Rs 55,548 crores.
He also requested that the Central government expedite the reimbursement of Rs 2900 crores spent by the state towards the project.
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