It was 7 a.m. on January 6 and the adivasi farmers of Chinna Jaggampeta in Nathavaram mandal of Visakhapatnam district were getting ready to tend to their farms. Even before they could realise what was happening, the local Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO), a team of about 50 armed policemen, led by the Inspectors from Narsipatnam and Nathavaram, and about 70 labourers from the neighbouring villages descended on the village, forcibly packed 70 of them — including women, the elderly and children — into the police vans and chopped off and carried away the paddy crop that was nearing harvest.
Such a scene one witnessed in films like Mother India, where zamindars and local financiers grabbed the produce as the farmers could not repay loans. But now it was done by the district administration with the support of policemen and reportedly at the behest of a local non-tribal political leader, who had been eyeing the 22-acre piece since 1974.
The Konda Dora adivasis themselves do not know since when they have been tilling the land. “It has been ages. We regard Chinna Jaggampeta as our native soil,” said Pydiraju, a farmer, who having cleared Intermediate is one among the educated adivasis.
The 50 families have been growing one crop of paddy on 11 acres and cashew, coconut and palm on the other 11 acres. They have developed a unique cooperative system, where none is the owner of any plot and the entire produce is shared equally after harvest.
“This year, we had a good crop. We produce about 30 bags from each acre and every family gets around six bags of rice and this is our only source of livelihood. The festive mood was just setting in, as the harvest time was nearing. And the authorities came down and destroyed our crop,” said Vellagada Parvathi.
According to her, there were about 10 policewomen and they used considerable force to bundle them into the vans to take them to the KD Peta police station, about 30 km away. “And the next day, we found our lush green fields turned a barren tract,” she added
The labourers were brought from the neighbouring villages such as Gummidi Konda and Yedurupalli (native village of Minister Ayyanna Patrudu); generators, high power lights and tractors too were brought in. “They worked from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. next day and our entire produce was harvested before time and taken away,” lamented Satya.
In 1974, one Ankam Reddy Nookaraju, a local non-tribal politician, obtained a sale agreement (not a registered sale deed) and based on that he procured a pattadar pass book and had been staking his claim of ownership ever since.
In 2011, both the adivasis and Mr. Nookaraju also called Jameel, went to court and the case is pending in the High Court, said Mr. V. Kiran of Rythu Swarajya Vedika. He said Mr. Nookaraju wanted to take advantage of the fact that the land did not fall under Schedule V of the Constitution.
The case is due for hearing on January 6. The High Court had ordered ‘status quo’ which was communicated to the MRO. Still, the officials deprived the adivasis of their food, said Mr. B. Ramakrishna Raju of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).