Fighting Injustice in Polepally SEZ

…more than courage it takes WILL to stand up against injustice !

SEZ woes and people’s resistance in AP

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– Sujatha Surepally

Polepally team traveled across the state to interact with people fighting against Special Economic Zones, displacements. We interacted with groups in Kakinada SEZ, Krishnapatnam SEZ, Eruru, few others SEZs in Nellore and Polavaram dam displaced adivasis in Bhadrachalam. We are asking seeking the support of all anti-SEZ groups to the Polepally struggle. We need to mobilize all anti-SEZ forces against the state government that is possessed by SEZ madness.

Our week long visit was a great learning and immensely helpful in sharing the struggle experiences. Rajendra (kakinada), APCLC Ramesh in Nellore and Rathnamala akka helped us a lot in completing the sharing exercise successfully.

Our first visit was to Polavaram displaced areas. It was heart breaking and took some time to understand the development process, heinous plans of Govt and local leaders. Tribals, who are living on boats, living in peaceful hill tracts of Papikondalu and nine mandals of Khammam, East & West Godavari were in peace with Nature until the Govts and the so called society thrust itself on the adivasis of eastern ghats to eat up every inch of the state to feed its greed machine.

No one knows where they would live from tomorrow and how they are going to adjust to adverse ecological and social situations with so called mindless multi-purpose Polavaram dam uprooting the people who did not receive any iota in the progress and development that nation has made so far for generations. The ‘development addiction’ ruling policy makers never bothers to see the social fabric of society, cultural concerns of people, diversities, life styles, livelihoods and aesthetics of living with dignity. Adivasis do not wish to live with outsiders, and cultures that are based on exploitation, profit, acquiring properties, and power derived from these scheming minds.

When we asked some tribals about what they think of the ‘development project’, they didn’t even bother to listen to us, and gave us simple and straight answer that they cant leave Godavari and their villages. A small section is in confusion and scared that they would be kicked out anyhow by the mighty government. Some adjusted with the package deals. But original tribals do not even wish to listen about displacement. They said that they cannot imagine their lives away uprooted from these villages. Besides, controversy of displacement compensations, what about the scenic beauty and natural wealth? Is it not a jewel of Telangana? Is it not an ecological catastrophe threatening the entire state? Is it not the human rights issue of indigenous communities? Should one section of a society have no other choice but to sacrifice for the development of others- the educated, urban, greedy contractors and corrupt and opportunistic politicians. It was painful to realize our helplessness and inability to answer their queries. Inability of being useless in raising the voice against this catastrophe in the making.

We spent two days in Kakinada SEZ area, the port development area. In the name of Coastal corridor around 972 Km sea shore areas from Srikakulam Icchapuram to Nellore Tada in nine coastal districts are threatened of abhivruddhi bhootham (the development ghost). Govt is planning pharmaceutical companies, petroleum, leather parks, mega electricity projects, ports etc to take away this thousand kilometer coastal stretch. These are inhabited by fishing communities, dalits, backward communities, yanadi and other indigenous tribes.

Polepally and Kakinada people are fighting against SEZs since years. People in other areas do not know what’s happening to their lands and lives and are not informed by any groups of civil society or the political parties that promise nothing but welfare of the poor. Slowly they are realizing the issue and organizing against the SEZ injustices. We visited seven villages including Srirampuram, Ponnada. One interesting village is Vakadaripeta, which is predominantly inhabited by Yadavs. Many of them don’t even know any means of living other than grazing their livestock. Education is not much visible in these villages. 10,000 acres of land and more than 20 villages are identified to be displaced. They have become victims for the sin of living near the port, near the cities. Kakinada villages are entirely different from Telangana. They are near to the sea, plenty of water and lots of greenery around. Innocent dalit backward communities are living in their own places with their cultural food habits and distinct life styles.

Compensation is high in this district compared to other areas. It is around Rs 7 to 10 lakhs per acre. In some villages people are protecting their lands, militantly resisting Govt officials and others who are entering into villages. Many groups and political parties visited the people. Election season is bringing many politicians to Kakinada and other affected areas. People who highlight issues through their reports and films are also visiting these areas. Rajendra, a dalit activist is the man behind peoples mobilization. Hema Venkata Rao, activist and advocate, is also playing key role in this protest. Everywhere tactics adopted by the officials are same- catching hold of selfish persons, corrupt politicians, encashing innocence of the villagers, harassing and threatening the activists and pampering groups for package deals. We shared our experiences with the villagers wherever we went. We found that many people, activists are aware of Polepally struggle and they are keen to know our problems and victories and strategies and who is helping and who is stabbing the people. They are considering it as strong protest which is taking place after so many years. We also felt happy that our Polepally struggle is an inspiration and they showed keen interest as how to force the political parties to act responsibly.

Then we went to Nellore. Raghupathi, Ramesh, Padmakar, Subbanna and others received us and guided entire two days. We visited Krishnapatnam area, on our way to port we found all NRI cities, real estate zones, up to six kilometers there is mega disaster in the making. Four villages are losing their lands and villages. The affected communities are Yanadi, bestha, muslims, muthrasi and peda kapu. We went to Muthukur, Ramalingapuram (basin). When we asked them about the changes they said, they dont want anything, they like to be with the samudram (the sea), work hard fishing and remain as fishermen all their life. They were told that they need to vacate. Government is building houses (congested two room houses) and training as drivers, labourers etc. R&R policy has no answer about how to address the distress and devastation that displacement is going to bring in the lives of the women in the fishing community. Women play a vital role in fishing community. It is the woman who does lot of work in drying the fish and selling. They have some demands of compensation, package etc. They were organized with many alternatives and packages. None of them imagined the problem of pollution. They mentioned that their health is already affected, many got jaundice, TB and are not able to live in their houses due to fine dust. What if the port starts working full fledged? No one has any answer.

Next day, we visited Ankulapatur steel SEZ area. The village resembles Polepally with selective displacement affecting only the marginalized communities. Lots of oppressed communities whose lands were taken in phased manner. All landlords, reddy community’s people were safe and secure. Nellore has more SEZs among all Coastal districts. And the protest is conspicuously absent. APCLC recently organised a seminar and started working in a few areas. We were told that some other groups are also working on SEZs whom we could not meet for lack of time. Local leaders, dominant communities were convinced with the packages and they are driving people to accept compensations for land acquisitions. We met an activist who was fired by a security guard. His hand is injured badly. One can’t even enter the construction area in Nellore district. It is out of bounds. It is another world where the villagers whose lands were forcibly taken cannot even touch their soil once again. We also visited Erur, the peaceful village is notified and ready to be sacrificed for fishing reservoir/some development project.

All SEZs are same only the names are different. No project is going to bring any welfare or development for those who had to sacrifice their lands and livelihoods and communities. Only the package deals and dealers of death and displacement are different. It reminds of the woes of displaced in Bangladesh. Displaced dalit backward communities who migrated to Bangladesh long back due to poverty and other reasons, after three four generations they are reduced to living as stray dogs. Now they have no status there, they are neither migrants, minorities, nor untouchable communities. They are just voters, used at the time of elections. They live on drainages under metal sheets like pig sties. No one gives house to them for rent as they are rootless citizens. Probably SEZ displaced people will be, among those who escape hunger starvation and death, will lead lives like those rootless people of Bangladesh.

Now the time has come to join hands for the noble cause of saving our resources, communities, culture, lives in harmony with Nature and environment.

Jai Telanagana !

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Written by Sujatha Surepally

October 29, 2008 at 7:07 pm

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