The common refrain of farmers in Amaravati is: “The Centre has, in the least, taken note of the farmers’ agitation with PM Modi offering to put the new farm laws on hold for some time. In Amaravati, the government has not even bothered to interact with us, though we have been out on the road for 475 days. The ministers have called us paid artists, belittling our movement by terming it an issue related to a particular caste, and have provoked us by sponsoring counter agitations with people from outside in support of the bifurcation of the (Andhra Pradesh) capital.”
Bhukya Rambabu, a tribal farmer in Velagapudi village under Amaravati Capital Region, is now struggling to raise money for his son’s admission in homoeopathic medicine course, He is already grieving for not being able fulfill his elder son’s ambition to become a doctor is too. “My hands are tied. My land is with the government for the capital’s development. The government failed to give me the developed plot. Had I got it, I would have sold it, or, mortgaged it in a bank”, he told The Federal. Like many, he has been a part of a sit-in against the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s decision to create three capitals.
The government’s decision, if it works, reduces this new city to a legislative capital (where there will be only the legislative assembly, council and related wings).
Officially, Rambabu isn’t poor, but he is now slipping into a financial crisis. In 2015-16, his family of five had given his four-acre share in the 21-acre land that it owned for the construction of a “dream capital” at Amaravati. He was initially not ready to give up the land, but he was helpless as most family members agreed to sell the land. He kept 1.5 acres with him as a precaution: if the hyped capital fails to materialize, he would have some land to cultivate. If it materialized, he could gain by selling it for a better price, later.
But, after hearing then opposition leader YS Jagan Mohan Reddy speaking in the Assembly in support of the capital in Amaravati, Rambabu gave that piece too, believing that the “world class capital plan” was going to be a reality.
Till the area was proposed for the capital for the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh, the family cultivated its part of land as well as getting some more work elsewhere on lease.
“Till the time we surrendered our lands to the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), we went on adding one acre or half to ours. After the transfer of land, we were getting Rs 50,000 per acre monetary compensation promised for ten years. That was also fine. We were living in dreams about a colourful life”, he says. “Everything is shattered”.
At that time, he says it was impossible for him to even imagine that one day he would be agitating for his survival. “We want justice. Build the capital in Amaravati. Don’t kill Amaravati in the name of three-capital slogans”.
Hundreds of fellow farmers from all castes have joined him. Men and women in the 29 villages under the proposed capital region sit in protest every day from morning to evening at their own villages.
Every farmer in this highly fertile belt had plans for the future. Karumanchi Sridhar, a young engineering graduate from the family that gave ten acres for the capital, became an entrepreneur by buying ten tractors and five tippers. He was hoping the construction works would go on for the next 20 years and that he would have assignment to transport the material. He hired 15 drivers and assistants.
“I was getting regular work from the L&T, which was executing many works here. Other contractors also gave me work. The sudden decision of the new government in June 2019 to stop all the pending works shattered my dreams. The tractors and tippers and drivers became a liability for me. We suspended the work, laying off the staff and sold eight tractors”, Sridhar told The Federal. He now looks after 20 cattle in the shed near his house.
Idupulapati Sitaramaiah, 48, gave six acres for the capital city and sold 80 cents to private persons for 80 lakh. He borrowed Rs 20 lakh and built a multi-storeyed building, hoping to earn rents.
For nearly two years, the L&T company took two floors, paying Rs 34,000 a month. Soon after the government ordered status quo on the constructions in Amaravati, the company vacated his premises. Nobody came thereafter. Sitaramaiah says, “Now, repaying the debts and meeting maintenance costs has gone beyond my capacity. I am borrowing again to keep my financial commitment”.
Sridhar says, “The government is saying it would return our lands. How is it possible? The borders are erased. Lands were dug for underground cables and roads were laid. The soil lost its original nature”.
After the change in government in May 2019, the YS Jagan cabinet decided to scrap the Amaravati capital project to set up three capitals — the executive in Visakhapatnam, the judiciary in Kurnool and the Legislature in Amaravati.
While challenging the decision in the High Court, the farmers have also been conveying their resentment against what they call as “disastrous idea of the government” through agitations for the last 475 days (as on April 6). They mustered the support of all parties, except the ruling YSR Congress. The TDP, BJP, Jana Sena and CPI have been extending moral support to the agitation.
Several NRIs are coming forward to contribute for the food needs of the agitating farmers. On Sunday (April 4), Naveen Yerramaneni and his friends from the United States offered to share a part of the expenses at Velagapudi tent.
“Every day, support from new quarters comes, giving us the hope that people understand the dangers of more than one capital,” says G Bhanu, another farmer.
Puvvada Sudhakar, convener of the farmers Joint Action Committee (JAC), says, “Ministers have threatened us to sponsoring a counter agitation with people from outside, but we are determined”.
Many farmers in these villages also face police cases. Police sources say 3,700 cases have been registered against the farmers at different police stations including Tulluru, Mandadam, Vinukonda, Tadepalli, Mangalagiri and others. The cases pertain to violation of the restrictions imposed on protests, intimidating and preventing public servants from discharging their duties, burning effigies, leading protests defying the prohibitory orders.
Some farmers face even dacoity cases. Karumanchi Appaiah was sent to jail in a dacoity case, besides a charge that he assaulted a tehsildar (revenue official) and obstructed the police. He came out on bail after a week.
Five years back, Appaiah was a special attraction in Amaravati — he bought three Pancha Kalyani horses in 2016, from the money he received by selling 10 acres of his property for the capital. It was a childhood dream realized for the man now in his 50s. People used to come out of their homes to see Appaiah riding his horses for morning strolls, to drop his grandson and granddaughter to school and also to visit his farm.
“We are a well respected family in the village. How can we be booked on serious charges like attacking the police and revenue officials?” asks Appaiah.
“We mocked the government decision to send Appaiah to the jail in a dacoity case”, says K Suribabu, a farmer and financier in the village. Appaiah’s second son Sridhar also faces three cases and is currently out on bail.
Then there is another case: Idupulapati Sitaramaiah was slapped with a case for slapping self with his slipper on July 31, 2020, when Governor Biswa Bhushan Harichandan gave his assent to the three-capital Bill. “I didn’t do any harm to anybody. I slapped myself saying we got the lesson we deserved for giving land for the capital. When I saw some youth burning old tyres, I chose my own way to protest,” he said. Sitaramaiah went underground till his lawyers got him anticipatory bail.
Rambabu’s paternal uncle is another example. “During the initial days of the agitation, the police tried everything to suppress the movement. But, they later realized that it is not a sponsored protest,” says Narendra, another farmer.
“Why are we getting this punishment? We have been on the road for the last 475 days. No elected representative or official has come to talk to us. But, yes, the policemen do come with ropes and an iron fence to confine us to our homes or in a tent, whenever the chief minister or other important functionary travels through the area,” says N Rajyalakshmi, a woman farmer.
Another woman protester Savitramma says the farmers are not allowed to go to the temple together. “We tried twice to go to Kanaka Durga temple. The police handled us very badly. We went there again last month. They forced us to take a detour from Prakasam barrage (on the Krishna river).
JAC convener Puvvada Sudhakar says the farmers had contributed Rs 5,000 per acres to meet the legal expenses. He says people here see the farmers’ agitation as a problem of the people of only 29 villages.
Meanwhile, the high court at Amaravati will start hearing afresh multiple petitions from May 3. The HC had earlier heard the petitions, but the change in the Chief Justice (Justice JK Maheswari was transferred) brought the whole process to back to square one, with present CJ Arup Kumar Goswamy preferring to hear all petitioners afresh.
The government, on the other hand, seems to be in a hurry to establish the executive capital in Vizag. There are rumours that the CM has fixed May 7 as ‘muhurat’ for relocating his office to Vizag.