Delhi: Polavaram Flood Victims Protest at Jantar Mantar Against Low Relief
Hundreds of tribals affected by the Polavaram National Project in Elluri and East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh demonstrated on Monday at Jantar Mantar in the national capital for immediate relief from the Union government. Under the project, the Centre, in collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh government, will build a dam and two canals for irrigation and drinking water. However, the water collected under the project affects more than 3 lakh people in Andhra Pradesh alone; additionally, it affects people in Telangana and Odisha as well.
Srinivas Rao, who lost his land in the East Godavari district due to floods, said that 3 lakh tribals migrate to the region's upper mountains as the government has yet to provide rehabilitation for homes and farms.
"Since 2006, the ordeal gets repeated every year. Our homes and farms remain inundated for three months."
Srinivas Rao added that before the project's commencement, the floods would only come when water flowed above 53 feet mark at the barrage in Bhadrachalam district, but the situation has worsened so much that it can flood now at 30 feet mark only, mainly due to an increase in the height of the dam.
Srinivas Rao maintained that the farms and homes remained inundated in June, July and August, leaving farmers, agricultural workers and artisans in complete disarray with a complete loss of income.
"Life becomes a standstill in these three months. People move to upper areas in the mountains and often make huts in forests where scarcity of basic amenities like power, water and medical facilities make life difficult for tribals. The ironical part remains that local administration turns schools into relief centres. Thus, the education of the children, too, suffers. Jagan Reddy government would only provide two kilograms of onions and potatoes and Rs 2,000 as relief for three months. It's not our worth."
Srinivas Rao added that the discrimination towards tribals is clear in the ruling party's attitude as they think we are electorally insignificant.
"They think that they can win without our support in eight mandals. That's why we do not figure out their priorities. The government makes excuses about the lack of monetary funding from the Union government, but if it is serious about our concern, it can build pressure on it and get the money released. We came here to put our demands before parliamentarians and get them raised in the Parliament."
Nagamani, who came from the Elluri district of Andhra Pradesh, said that floods leave a devastating impact on the lives of women with acute anaemia due to food shortages.
"The floods come and stay, forcing much of the population to take shelter in the mountains. Power and water become scarce. Pregnant women lose access to doctors and medical facilities. Similarly, we had several cases where women were bitten by snakes and died. Men in the family also cannot leave members in uncertainty to find jobs."
However, she is confident that the state and Union governments will have to provide relief to people and movement will ultimately succeed.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have created the impression here that he is invincible, but we are here to remind him that we inherit the legacy of Alluri Sitaram Raju, who fought the British, suffered numerous pains and won independence for us. Please, do not test our patience."
V Srinivas Rao, secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist), who organised 500 kilometres of Padyatra in July this year to galvanise support for victims, told NewsClick on the sidelines of the protest that the estimates suggest that the land belonging to 1.20 lakh families would be affected. Still, Andhra Government has only recognised 20,000 families for relief and rehabilitation.
"They have left 80% of families out of relief package. In 20,000 families, they have deliberately left newlywed couples, constituting about 20% of the affected and recognised victims. Both governments, state as well as Union, have betrayed their promises. The project's estimated cost is Rs 55,000 crore, out of which Rs 35,000 crore was kept for relief and rehabilitation only. However, it has released Rs 7,000 crore only till now. The state government is also not recognising the real number of victims."
V Srinivas Rao added that 50% of victims are tribals, 20% are dalits, and 30% are other populations. The state government promised to provide Rs 5 lakh for one acre, but it is giving Rs 1.20 lakh for each acre.
V Srinivas Rao maintained that the padayatra galvanised support on the ground, and the representatives of every party came to express their solidarity.
"The leadership may be afraid of Modi, but on the ground, it's a mass movement with CPI(M) leading it on the front."
Addressing the protesters, Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau Member, CPI(M), said there is a new bid to push tribals where they will lose special privileges under the fifth schedule of the constitution.
"It's not accepted. It's a government hell-bent on bulldozing constitutional measures, but we will fight to the hilt."
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