The impregnable fortress of Telangana govt
Barely a year into his stint as chief minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao seems to have taken to his role as the most important public official in India’s newest state like a fish to water. He and (many of) his “officers on special duty” or OSDs are quite adept at warding off scribes and citizens alike.
On an assignment in the state, I was assured of an appointment with Rao almost a week in advance. Rao’s OSD shuttled my slot from one day to the next, finally promising me an interview with him after the inauguration of afforestation drive in Chilkur in Rangareddy district. The drive is part of Rao’s pet project, Harithahaaram (the green necklace).
At the launch of the drive, people were not even given water. In the midday heat, when I asked the organisers for a glass of water, I was made to wait for over an hour and was finally refused. They said that packaged drinking water was only for the chief minister’s entourage.
Amidst much fanfare, the project was finally inaugurated. When it was time for my interaction with Rao, the OSD in charge of the greening drive said it would take place when he was travelling from Chilkur to Narapally.
I was then asked to come to the Rao’s camp office. Once there, I waited for over five hours till 11 pm only to be told that he was too “tired” and couldn’t meet anybody.
My struggle is, however, a minor one when compared to the attempts made by his voters to meet him. Waiting outside Rao’s camp office was a visibly hassled resident from Ramunipally in Gajwel Mandal. Located in Medak district of Telangana, it used to be Rao’s constituency till he resigned after becoming chief minister.
The Ramunipally resident had come to meet Rao to bring to his attention a host of issues, from child marriage in his village to the lack of water facilities. He had travelled 100 km from one place to another in pursuit of Rao, hoping to have an audience with him. But he was not allowed even past the first barricade.
Speaking to Down To Earth on the condition of anonymity, he said, “The constituency is very close to the capital—less than 70 km, in fact. But we barely have enough facilities. We are in no condition to practise agriculture due to irrigation problems. We don’t know of any other source of livelihood and we are doing odd jobs to sustain ourselves.”
At the state secretariat one day, Yellareddy, a septuagenarian farmer from Nalgonda district, saw me walking in and out of information departments and fell at my feet. He wanted me to take his petition inside. He was waiting for compensation for his crops damaged by the untimely rains in April.
The government had refused to purchase the crop as it was not dry. “How can we protect the crops from getting wet? Earlier, there were no rains throughout the crop season. The April rains ensured that we could not even break even and are further in debt. I hope the chief minister, a farmer himself, understands and pays heed to our troubles,” he rued.
When told about the government’s industrial policy, Yellareddy said, “If the government wants to buy my land for industry, I will gladly sell it. I have made only losses from agriculture and am under heavy debt. Compensation from the government seems almost impossible to get.”
Between June 2014 and February 2015, 856 farmers have committed suicide in Telangana—a state formed on the basis of providing peasants their due rights and bailing them out of the agrarian crisis. The chief minister, meanwhile, is seeking accolades for his industrial policy and afforestation drive.
Speaking of Harithahaaram, while the project is meant to provide a habitat to monkeys which often harass farmers, a quarter or 10.25 crore of the saplings are of teak. When asked why the afforestation drive consisted of trees with commercial use, the OSD in charge of afforestation, Priyanka Varghese, said, “If people want to cut the teak trees later, let them. They will realise its value and replant it.”
While there is an afforestation drive in one part of the state, the reserve forests in Adilabad, Karimnagar and Khammam districts are slowly depleting to pave way for industry. As of June 23, 2015, clearance had been granted to nine new industrial units to establish their base in Telangana with heavy subsidies. Last month, the state issued orders asking government officials to give industry clearance on time or pay penalty. When I asked the OSDs about the water-starved agrarian sector and the policies to help farmers out of the crisis, they said, “There is enough water. Our chief minister is also launching a Mission Kakatiya to repair the tanks for water storage. Our chief minister is a visionary, you see.” Perhaps that elusive glass of water will be served when the tanks are repaired and filled with rainwater according to Rao’s “visionary” policy.
DOWN TO EARTH (Views expressed are personal)