Why Telangana farmers opposed Municipal Master Plans for Jagtial, Kamareddy

After the two municipalities rejected the master plans, the KCR government put them on hold; it also shelved the proposal to release master plans of 10 other towns

Kamareddy municipal council-farmers protest
Farmers stage protest against Kamareddy municipal council draft master plan. Photo: The Federal

Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has often asserted that Telangana is the richest state in the country, where land prices are so high that farmers can buy three to four acres in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh by selling just one acre in the state. He could not have anticipated that his assertion would one day become a weapon in the hands of farmers to reject the master plans prepared for the headquarters of the newly carved districts.

On January 20, Jagtial and Kamareddy municipal councils rejected the draft master plans, following fierce agitation by the farmers of the villages that were included in the master plan. They demanded that the villages be excluded from the master plan. The farmers fear that their fertile agricultural land would fall prey to the industrial, recreational, public and semi-public zones identified in the master plans.

Plans put on hold

The news of approval of master plans by the municipalities earlier hit villages like a bombshell. Overnight, Kamareddy and Jagtial turned into war zones. The Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) leadership, which was projecting itself as farmer-friendly at the national level with a tagline ‘Ab Ki Bar Kisan Sarkar,’ was taken aback by the sudden eruption of anger from the farming community in the crucial election year; Telangana Assembly elections are due in December 2023. Any mishandling and delay in dousing the fire would spread to other towns which are expecting master plans.

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The K. Chandrashekar Rao government swung into action and put on hold the master plans while the two municipalities passed resolutions rejecting the plans. Special chief secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Arvind Kumar had to announce that the master plan of Kamareddy was put on hold indefinitely. He said: “There is a need to engage with the farmers and land owners, especially in erstwhile gram panchayats now merged with Kamareddy and the draft plan is put on hold indefinitely until the process is done through consensus.” Sources in the government said following the unexpected setback, the proposal to release the draft master plans of another 10 towns is shelved.

The spark

The agitation erupted in Jagtial area immediately after the approval of a draft master plan by the Municipal Council on December 15, 2022. What ignited the spark was the inclusion of villages Narsingpur, Lingampet, Thimmapur, Tharoor, Kandlapally, Tippannapet, Mothe, Ambaripet in the master plan. The farmers allege that there was no consultation whatsoever before the villages were brought under the master plan.

Kamareddy
Farmers protest against the master draft plan of Kamareddy. Photo: The Federal

The lands of these villages come under various zones such as industrial, recreational, public, semi-public zones. Many residents apprehend that Master Plan roads would lead to the demolition of their houses. Some zones impose restrictions on construction activities while others preclude them from raising new structures. The farmers in Thimmapur, Mothe and Nasingpur villages said that about 1,000 acres had been brought under the draft master plan. Even though public opinion was sought, many feel this was only a statutory requirement and their opinion would not be binding upon.

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After the master plan was made public, a pall of gloom descended on these villages and the anxiety that their lands would be taken away by the government gripped every family. Protest and anger replaced the fervour of New Year celebrations and Sankranti festivities.

Land: A scarce commodity in Telangana

In Telangana, following the formation of the new state and, thereafter, the new districts, the land has become a scarce commodity with abnormal prices. Surikanti Rajeshwar Reddy of Mothe village told The Federal that an acre of land around Jagtial town costs about a crore of rupees.

Reddy, husband of Mothe Gram sarpanch Swapna, cited an instance that showcases the unusual demand for land in this area. “Two months ago, a farmer wanted to sell an acre of land at the rate of Rs 2 lakh per gunta as he needed money to get his daughter married.  At this rate, he would get Rs 80 lakh per acre (40 guntas). The buyer even paid a token advance. Following the release of the draft master plan for Jagtiyal, the buyer backed out as he came to know that the land he was purchasing was categorised as a public zone where restrictions would be imposed on taking up commercial activities. The deal fell through,” he said.

Jagtial agitation
Slogans demanding the resignation of the councillors and members of Mandal Praja Parishad (MPP) and Panchayat were written in the foreyards of homes.

CM KCR was absolutely correct when he talked about the soaring prices of lands in Telangana. Nowhere in Telangana is farmland available for sale. Even if it is available, an acre costs not less than Rs 30 to 40 lakh even in remote areas and is likely to go up in the near future. The market value is so high that any compensation based on registration value would be a pittance compared to the market value.

This is the reason for the consternation among the farmers of the villages that have been merged with Jagtial and Kamareddy Municipalities. “We did not ask for the merger of villages into Jagtial municipality. And we never anticipated that the master plan would harm the interest of the farmers. Officials never revealed the true contents of the draft plan. What we were told and what was incorporated in the draft are different. So, we opposed it,” Surikanti said.

Stating that the relief is a temporary gain, Surikanti said that perhaps it was the upcoming Assembly elections that had forced the state government to buy peace with farmers by keeping the master plans in abeyance. “Land is our life. We are also planning to relaunch our agitation till the GO relating to master plans is scrapped,” he said.

Gudisela Gangadhar, sarpanch of Ambaripet village near Jagtial, was intrigued how every acre of land of the village had been included in the master plan without any consultation. “I was not consulted before our village was included in the industrial zone of Hasnabad. As much as 90 per cent of the zone occupies our lands. If we lose our land, what will happen to our future generations?” the sarpanch asked.

The agitation to protest against the Jagtial master plan. Photo: The Federal

The villagers allege that the master plan was formulated in such a way that all their lands fell in one zone or another other such as Recreation, Green, Public, Semi-public and Industrial, which make their ownership precarious. They have never had any inkling of what was in store when their villages were merged with the nearby municipal bodies.

The beginning of the revolt

The aggrieved farmers in Jagtial Municipal limits formed themselves into Joint Action Committee (JAC) and a strategy was devised to mobilise every family of the village as it was done during the Telangana movement. Women and children hit the road. They occupied the National Highway, cooked their food and ate on the road itself. The New Year was heralded with protest slogans. Protests against the master plan and calls to save their two-crop farmlands became the theme of Sankranti Rangavallis. Slogans demanding the resignation of the councillors and members of Mandal Praja Parishad (MPP) and Panchayat were written in the foreyards of homes. Jai Jawan- Jai Kisan cry rented the air for over a month.  They laid siege to the Jagtial but they never allowed the agitation to slip into the hands of political parties.

Kamareddy farmers were first to raise the banner of revolt against the draft master plan. Kamareddy district was created bifurcating the Nizamabad district with Kamareddy town as the headquarters. The proposed master plan encompasses eight villages namely Lingapur, Ilchipur, Devunipally, Rajampet, Adloor Yellareddy, Tekriyal and Adloor.

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“An industrial zone is proposed just 4 km from the bus station. How would any government plan an industrial zone so close to the town? That too, on farmlands. Agriculture is our livelihood. If farmers forego lands for the industrial zone, where would they go and purchase the lands? So, we won’t cede the land at any cost. We hope that plan will not be revived,” Kummari Rajaiah, a farmer from Ilchipur and leader of Kamareddy JAC, told The Federal. According to Rajaiah, farmland costs from Rs 1 crore to Rs 3 crore acre near Kamareddy.

In the first week of January, Payyavula Ramulu, a farmer who owned three acre of land, committed suicide as he was apprehensive of losing the land to the master plan. Another farmer, Marripalli Balakrishna, attempted suicide.

Former minister and Congress leader Md Ali Shabbir slammed the master plan as a real estate venture. “I see a design in the preparation of the master plan. The new districts have come as a boon for the government. They want to acquire land by giving compensation based on registration value.  Later, they sell the land after plotting for crores of rupees. There is no transparency in the process. We will fight along with farmers till their lands are excluded from the master plan,” Shabbir, who represented Kamareddy Assembly constituency twice, said.

Rythu Swarajya Vedika, convenor of Kanneganti Ravi, says this type of conflict is inevitable in Telangana and the farmers of Jagtial and Kamareddy have shown the way to farmers how to protect their lands through a non-political agitation. “People realised that there was no public purpose in acquiring the land for industries as the employment generated was minimal. Now with land prices skyrocketing, farmers are vehemently opposing attempts to acquire their lands, as seen in Jagtial and Kamareddy. The message is clear: the government should not acquire farmlands for industrialists. Let them negotiate with farmers if they really want the land in a particular locality. Jagtial and Kamareddy farmers have paved the way for a new kind of agitation where farmers themselves are leaders,” Ravi said.

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