Immediately after the Right to Information Act was implemented in 2005, under the aegis of United Forum for Right to Information Campaign activists like Ram Krishna Raju of National Alliance of People’s Movements organized camps in different districts of undivided Andhra Pradesh with the help of local organizations to make people aware of the Act. Information Commission was established and there was keen interest in the implementation of this Act for the first five years. However over a period of time, as officials became more familiar with the Act, ways were found to deny the information to the applicants rather than comply with the Act. After the state was divided into 2014 things took a turn for the worse. It appeared that for the two governments the RTI Act did not exist. No Information Commission was formed by Government of Telangana until recently in spite of a High Court order and Government of AP is yet to take the initiative to constitute the Information Commission.
But the worst treatment by the two governments has been reserved for the Right to Education Act 2009. While in other states children from disadvantaged categories and weaker sections are being admitted to expensive private schools under section 12(1)(c) of the Act for free education from classes I to VIII, the two governments of Telangana and AP are yet to frame the rules for the implementation of the Act. Quite clearly the lobby of private schools in collusion with private coaching giants is obstructing the implementation of the RTE Act. Free and compulsory education for children is now a fundamental right and it is the anti-poor bias of the executive which reflects in the laxity demonstrated in the implementation of this Act.
Another issue of concern in AP and Telangana is the increasing rate of suicides among school children due to immense pressure from parents and nexus of coaching institutions and schools to succeed in the entrance examinations to prestigious engineering and medical institutions for higher education. A meeting was organized by a journalist recently in Vijayawada on this issue.
There have been many movements in AP against big projects which pose a danger of land acquisition to farmers and threat to the environment in the recent past.
A nuclear power plant was planned to be built in Mithivirdi of Bhavnagar district of Gujrat. After a massive and prolonged protest by farmers there, the government has decided to shift this plant to Kovvada of Srikakulam district in AP. It appears that initially the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited was going to build a plant here but it gave up the idea after some protests and possibly for some other reasons. However, the idea of a nuclear plant here has been revived after the proposed plant at Mithivirdi was shited to this location. Now the plant will be built by Westinghouse Electric Company, which interestingly has filed for bankruptcy in the US. It remains to be seen whether the local people will again display the resistance like last time to stall the project in a manner their Gujarati brethren were able to do.
Plan for setting up a thermal power plant by Nagarjuna Construction Company in Sompeta of Srikakulam district had to be withdrawn after three farmers were killed in police firing in 2010 on a protest against the plant. The government canceled the 972 acres of land, including some wetland called ‘beela’ locally, allotted to the company but the company still holds the land and can use it to set up the agro-based industry. In addition, the company had acquired 500 acres on its own. There is a monument dedicated to three who were martyred which mentioned well known human rights activist K. Balagopal as the inspiration behind the struggle.
Another two people died one year later in the same district at Kakarapalli, site of another power plant during protests. This plant too was to be set up by The East Coast Energy Private Ltd. on the primary wetland. However, due to financial difficulties, the plant could not be completed and now the Telugu Desam Party government says that there is no need to build thermal power plants at the cost of environment and public safety.
There was a plan to set up 29 thermal power plants in Nellore district alone for generating 34,000 MW of electricity. However, there was an outcry among the public and after protests in public hearings, the number has been brought down to 11 at present. Nowhere else in the country is there such a concentration of thermal power plants.
A government which planned to acquire 10,500 acres for Kakinada Special Economic Zone in Uppada Kothapalli, Thondangi and Kakinada Rural mandals of East Godavari district had to face stiff resistance from farmers over the land acquisition process. It is inexplicable why this location was chosen as it is one of the most fertile lands with farmers taking multiple crops. About half the land has been acquired but the farmers have challenged the land acquisition of the remaining land in Court.
There is also a local protest going on in Bhimavaram and Narsapur mandals of West Godavari district against an Rs. 800 crores Aqua Food Park for fish and prawn processing units over 70 acres of land to be set up by a private company Godavari Mega Aqua Food Park Ltd. No permission of the local panchayats has been taken for these projects. The project poses a threat to water, livelihood of about one lakh farmers and fish workers and also will create pollution. Four workers have sacrificed their lives due to poisonous gases in this project when they were asked to get down into a tank to clean it.
Farmers, especially of Penumaka and Undavalli villages in Guntur District, protested against the forcible process of land acquisition by throwing vegetables last year on road outside the office of Capital Region Development Authority which is tasked with building the new capital Amravati for AP. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu was shown the door in elections by people of undivided AP when he was trying to make Singapore out of Hyderabad. He should have learned his lesson. But he has embarked on an ambitious project again. It would have been better to use existing government and public buildings in Vijayawada and Guntur with some additional constructions to make a functioning capital rather than undertake a gigantic exercise of creating a mammoth infrastructure over 36,000 acres of agricultural land. We have to remember that there can be no alternative to agriculture if human beings have to survive and we should adopt a general principle of least disturbance to nature when carrying out developmental activities. Ideally, all developmental activities should be in harmony with nature so that pollution, which is an aberration, is kept to a minimum.
(Note: Written on the occasion of the national seminar on Social Movements in Post Independent India with Special Reference to Andhra Pradesh on 3-4 March 2018, at the S.K.S.D. Mahila Kalasala UG and PG (A), Tanuka, West Godavari District.)
Edited by Adam Rizvi