KUNAL MAJUMDER IN SRIKAKULAM, ANDHRA PRADESH,tehelka
A big firm zeroes in on farm land for a thermal plant, and the villagers resist because it’s all they have
THIS IS what happens when land, wetland at that, becomes the heart of battle, in this case the seaside village of Sompeta, 120 km from Srikakulam town. The Hyderabad-based Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) picks 1,100 acres of wetland here to build a thermal plant. The villagers object. On 14 July, they come to protest. Facing them are 200 NCC workers with blue ribbons and wielding lathis. Around 200 police personnel wait with batons, shields and helmets. The slogans begin: “Go back NCC”. Curses rent the air. The police respond with a lathicharge, and the blue ribbons join them. The villagers retreat, and return after two hours. Men and women, young and old, with bamboo sticks and tree branches. Teargas shells are fired, which are useless in the water-filled fields. The villagers surround the police and come charging, destroying tents, tearing banners and thrashing the constables who cannot run. In their rage, the villagers snatch at media cameras and pounce on reporters. Then, suddenly, there is gunfire. Sub-Inspectors aim their service revolvers at the villagers. Joga Rao, a 40-year-old farmer, falls, shot by Sub-Inspector K Ashoke Kumar. The villagers around Rao start yelling for help. A cameraperson from TV9, Anil Kumar, tries to put Rao on his motorcycle. Just then, someone hits Kumar on his head. Another villager, G Krishnamurthy, 54, is also shot. Later, at the mandal hospital, where the injured are being treated, a man suspected of being a police mole is beaten up. The crowd now starts targeting the media, whom they accuse of siding with the NCC. The madness continues into the night — an NCC office is burnt, and local politicians are attacked. The next day comes the news: environmental clearance to the NCC plant has been withdrawn.