Print edition : January 29, 2010

Women from Madapally tending the flower beds at the Shamshabad airport.-PICTURES: UMA MAHESHWARI

ON any given day, as one drives through the well-laid roads leading to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad, 22 kilometres from Hyderabad, one is most likely to miss, amid the striking hues of lavender, orange and white, the bent figures of Padma, Lalita and others tending the flower beds at the airport complex. Of course, every once in a while their fluorescent uniforms give them away. These women once grew flowers and vegetables on the same land as small farmers.

The land on which the airport terminal, the runway and the thousands of acres of landscaped extravagance around the complex stand is still alive in their collective memory as Galvaguda, Anantareddyguda or Madapally, or Chinna Gollapally villages that merged to become Shamshabad airport. Several small farmers gave up their holdings and their status as farmers for this larger private good.

The airport was inaugurated in March 2008. Padma and Lalita are daily wage labourers on temporary contracts. They work nine to 12 hours a day and earn Rs.120. Out of this meagre amount they spend Rs.30 each day on their commute to work.

The Andhra Pradesh government provided 5,400 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of land for the construction of the international airport. Since the land was found insufficient for the purpose, several privately owned lands were purchased, mainly in the villages of Anantareddyguda, Chinna Gollapally and Galvaguda. Gradually, more land was added to the larger airport complex from other smaller villages. While some of the owners were pattadars (holders of title deeds), several others (mainly Dalits and tribal people) were cultivators on assigned lands. The government arranged for payment of compensation under a relief and rehabilitation programme for the land, categorised as A, B and C on the basis of the strength of the soil. While most pattadars managed to get adequate compensation, the status of the assigned land cultivators continues to be pathetic.

The government had fixed Rs.4 lakh for category A, Rs.3.5 lakh for category B and Rs.3 lakh for category C. Those who lost their homes (that is, the ones who had assigned land) were provided open plots near the HUDA (Hyderabad Urban Development Authority) colony in Shamshabad under the R&R scheme with a financial package of Rs.55,600 to each household. A special cell was set up under a Special Deputy Collector (SDC) to oversee the process of acquisition and compensation, among other formalities.

The land acquisition and development process was completed between 2002 and 2004. As in other cases of displacement, the land acquisition witnessed popular resentment and protests. Today, many families are still waiting for compensation. Those who were given 250-square-yard (202-square-metre) housing plots at what is now called airport colony feel cheated.

The majority of the beneficiaries belong to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Backward Classes. Their fields were not compensated for. The roads of their colony are barely eight feet wide. Water that flows from their community taps has a high fluoride content, as attested by the Water and Sanitation officials who have warned them not to drink it. The residents purchase water from local vendors.

Two of the displaced persons, B. Dayanand and R. Eashwar, filed complaints with the Upa Lok Ayukta in 2005 regarding malpractices in R&R at Shamshabad International Airport and sought action. The complaints, submitted with documentary evidence, alleged misuse of power by the SDC, Prabhakar Reddy, in terms of denying the R&R package to around 25 people (mostly Dalits and members of Backward Classes) who had lost their lands in the three villages and giving compensation to undeserving persons. Two cases filed against the official in connection with the complaints are in progress.

One of the affected persons, Mudedla Jyothy, was apparently denied compensation on the grounds that she had already been allotted a plot of land. But the allotment was only on paper. Her compensation cheque was allegedly encashed by a middleman, who also owns her plot today. The dejected woman committed suicide, the affidavit dated September 5, 2005, says.

Eligani Pandariah, in his 70s, says: They took my land four acres but they are yet to give me a plot of land under the R&R package. They only gave me a certificate [Form D patta certificate], nothing else. It is very difficult to live in a rented house today, at this age. I pay a rent of Rs.1,200 for a small room. I have lost my land and everything to the airport, and I have no place to call my home.

VISITORS GATHER AT the arrival village of the greenfield airport, near Hyderabad, when it began its operations on March 23, 2008.-MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Nomula Babiah, another person in his 70s, says: I had four acres of [assigned] land, which they took and recorded in their books as three acres, but only pattadars were given cash compensation for their land. We got only housing plots. None of the [eligible] people got a job, which was the promise made when they came to acquire our lands. We do not have land for agriculture. Life was peaceful when we cultivated vegetables and flowers on our lands. We used to make about Rs.10,000 to Rs.20,000 a month, and even if we made only Rs.5,000 sometimes we were all happy. It was our land and our labour. There was always enough to eat. Today I am living in a rented accommodation. We are not asking for too much just the plot that was promised to us. We have been living off borrowed money since 2005.

Both Babiah and Pandaraiah figure in the affidavit filed in 2005, but a decision on this is yet to be taken. Many of them remember fondly the human rights activist K. Balagopal, whose passing away has brought the process of adjudication in their cases to a standstill.

Dayanand says: When we protested in 2002, the big Reddy pattadars also joined hands, since the talk was about better compensation. But when that happened and they got their share, they withdrew from the movement. Most of us who had assigned lands come from poorer backgrounds. We staged several protests between 2002 and 2004. We submitted the affidavit in 2005. But we have no energy or resources to continue fighting as we also need to work for our survival. When we see the terminal and the runway we are filled with remorse, and sometimes anger. Our children have not even been provided jobs in the airport as a matter of right.

Around 20 persons from these former villages are now working as trolley boys and as daily wage labourers, although some of them are educated. How long they will remain employed depends on the subcontractors whims.

The educated youth have been given employment on an ad hoc basis and are removed from service on flimsy pretexts. They earn up to Rs.5,000 a month. Initially, women from the colony were employed by contractors as janitors on 12-hour shifts. These women stopped going for work as they found the job below their dignity.

Bobbaru Ramulamma (in her 70s) says: I was there with many other women when we staged a dharna at the Collectors office here in 2002. We raised our voices of protest and fought as long as we could. But nothing has come out of all that. Land owners have become labourers. We have done our bit of fighting, but look at where we have been thrown out.

The residents of airport colony say Members of the Legislative Assembly representing the constituency had initially promised support but later changed their stance.

Dayanand says: Ninety per cent of our people in the three villages were agriculturists or agricultural labourers. In fact, we used to have agricultural labourers from Mahabubnagar working here. Today, our people are migrating to Mahabubnagar in search of work. We lost our lands for the airport, at least they should treat us with the respect we deserve. The drainage system is bad [in the colony]; our children have no playground; there are no community halls; no parks. We just have one high school here. Some distance from here, the authorities are building a 30-40 feet road but we got only narrow lanes. After much protest and demand, the government allotted a burial ground. But even that has been taken away for real estate projects. Ultimately, we do not have even land to bury our dead.

Both Nomula Babiah (left) and Eligani Pandariah have not been compensated for the four acres of land acquired from each of them.-

Most of the people here bury their dead. They make gravestones for the departed and leave there things they liked the most when they were alive. Eashwars fathers grave, for instance, always has a stack of beedis and some water. His father loved to smoke beedis. Eashwar says: These sentiments are important for us. But for the developers this is just a graveyard. They now ask us to give up this graveyard plot, too.

In fact, it was a custom in the acquired villages to bury the dead in their own fields. But after being displaced, the villagers were allotted a common burial ground. Even the plot meant for the graveyard was changed twice. God knows where they will ask us to go now if this graveyard is closed, says Eashwar.

Around 600 families affected by the airport project are still picking up the pieces and continuing to fight, although with less vigour. They know the fight is against a power they cannot match. They are resigned to the fact that they need to survive and at least manage to retain the house plots and get jobs in the airport.

What is worrying is the conditions mentioned in the Form D patta certificates issued to the displaced people, considering the larger developments in real estate happening around the airport colony and the HUDA land surrounding it. A new 40-foot-wide road has come up on the HUDA land, which will eventually connect to the outer ring road. These developments are happening on the sly. When contacted, a real estate developer said, they were only cleaning up the land and that nothing was coming up there.

Would this cleaning up eventually lead to clearing the housing plots of the displaced people? Perhaps, because the Form D certificates say that the assignee shall have no right of alienation of house site assign(ed) to her / him; that the government may resume the site without payment of compensation if it is required for any government or public purpose; and that the land shall be resumed, if in the opinion of the government any of the conditions of the grant has been contravened if question arises whether there was contravention of any of the conditions of the grant or not it shall be referred to the government and their decisions shall be final.

At the time when the certificates, in English, were issued, few of the affected people realised the implications of signing off their rights for a purpose that need not necessarily be called public good.

Considering the real estate boom in and around Shamshabad, the displaced villagers stare at an uncertain future. Yet, some of them are busy nurturing seasonal flowers, for life has to go on.

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