A day after Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao instructed officials to probe the land grabbing allegations against Health Minister Etela Rajender, the office of Governor Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan approved the transfer of Medical, Health and Family Welfare portfolio from Rajender to the CM on Saturday.
For the last few weeks, Etela was making headlines for criticising Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government for not supporting states to contain the spread of novel coronavirus amid the raging COVID-19 second wave. In an interesting turn of events, several Telugu TV Channels including TV9 and T News started airing news that the minister and his family members have ‘forcefully’ encroached ‘assigned’ lands near Achampet village of Masaipet Mandal in Medak district for the expansion of Jamuna Hatcheries owned by Rajender’s family.
Assigned lands are the lands given by the government to people from backward communities under certain conditionalities restricting the transfer or sale of such lands.
On Friday, the CM asked Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar to direct the Medak District Collector to probe the allegations and also instructed Vigilance DGP Purnachandra Rao to enquire the matter separately. Subsequently, Rajender held a press conference claiming that he is not guilty of any wrongdoing and has even dared an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation or by a sitting judge into the allegations.
After the health portfolio was taken away from him, Rajender told mediapersons that the series of events happening around him was planned to defame him. Stating that he will respond to the land allegations once the probe reports come out and that the entire Telangana society is standing with him.
According to the complaints by several farmers, as reported in the local newspapers, in 1994, the then government allotted assigned lands to marginalised communities in Achampet and its neighbouring villages. As per the complaint by several farmers to the district authorities, in the last several months, two close aids of Rajender, A Sudharshan and Yamjala Sudhakar Reddy, had allegedly threatened and spread lies among the villagers that their assigned lands will be taken back by the government and the land title deeds (around 100 acres) of about hundred families belonging to SC, ST and OBC communities will be ‘forcefully’ taken away. Further, they complained that the allies of the minister began laying sheds for expanding their poultry industry there.
Former Medak district collector Dharma Reddy and former assistant collector Nagesh told TV Channels that they were pressured by Rajender for allegedly regularising the assigned lands.
It is to be noted that the state government has planned several infrastructure projects wherein hundreds of acres of assigned lands of backward sections of people are located.
Political observers and several opposition parties claim that the controversy is not just related to the alleged land encroachments, but it also exposes the deepening gap between CM K Chandrashekar Rao and Rajender within their Telangana Rashtra Samithi Party.
The allegations being made by the farmers could be immediately probed by revenue officials to bring out the facts, says Professor Nageshwar Rao, but, he adds that the political aspect of the controversy is that the timing of the allegations at a time when Rajender was being vocal on various platforms and tacitly expressing his dissent within TRS Party. “The political situation may further expose the internal rift among leaders within the TRS party,” said Nageshwar.
While the state BJP party called for a probe by a high level committee into the allegations against Rajender, Congress National Spokesperson Dasoju Sravan said that the CM had plotted a political conspiracy against Rajender to “make up for his failures in curtailing the pandemic.”