The state festival tag added colour to Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh this time. But the hue of happiness was missing in 29 villages along river Krishna in Guntur district.
The villagers knew it was their last Sankranti, a harvest festival celebrated to seek agricultural prosperity. For in two months, more than 30,000 acres of fertile farmland would be acquired for a brand new capital planned in collaboration with Singapore.
The Nara Chandrababu Naidu government went about the capital project by setting aside the Centre’s land acquisition act and drawing up a compensation package for land-owning and tenant farmers and labourers.
Many are opposed to it, and are not keen on snapping their centuries-old bond with their land and livelihood.
In Penumaka village, Nageshwara Rao, 50, fears the future as he does not possess a tenancy certificate that could have brought some relief under the compensation package.
“The entire village is against land-pooling but we hear the government is adamant,” Rao says, referring to municipal minister P Narayana’s alleged assertion that land would be taken with or without the farmers’ consent.
Narayana is supervising the land-pooling process.
“Naidu says he would give us Rs 50,000 per year in lieu of annual crops. We earn that much in a month here,” villager Meka Koti Reddy says. To drive home the point, locals in Undavalli village nearby have put up a board asking officials to keep off their lands that produce three crops a year.
Unlike other parts of Andhra Pradesh, the water-rich land here is highly productive yielding 200 varieties of crops.
Some farmers are also suspicious about the compensation because Naidu is yet to deliver on the loan-waiver promise. They are now weighing legal options besides seeking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to retain their land.
While the villagers opposing land-pooling are allegedly being backed by Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party, those belonging to the Kamma community — the support base for Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party — are said to be cooperative.
It is also believed that Naidu chose this location over others suggested by experts to primarily benefit the Kamma industrialists who own large swathes of land in Krishna and Guntur districts.
But even the pro-project villagers cannot help feel insecure. “We are clueless about where our developed area would be. What if the project is not executed within Naidu’s tenure? Is there a legal recourse?” Idupulapati Rambabu of Mandadam says.
This is despite Naidu’s assurance on January 1 at nearby Thulluru, where he launched the land-pooling process, asking farmers to give land without any apprehension. He said the deal in its present form would make them richer than him in a decade.
“We are not building a mere city but a hub of economic activity loaded with superior infrastructure that is aimed at generating wealth. This would be a win-win situation for all,” Naidu tells HT.
As of now, villages like Nelapadu struggling with low soil fertility seem to be winning from the package.