Situated in a single bypass road connecting Kurnool, Byrapuram is a village in Telangana. It is a village that has been systematically isolated because of politics. This village is 5kms away from the Andhra Pradesh-Telangana border. Although they initially supported the bifurcation of the two states, the result of it has not been satisfactory for them. “We have all been duped”, says a tobacco plantation worker who refused to be named.
The bigger problem faced by these villagers are the environmental damage of their agricultural land and ground water contamination because of a chemical factory not too far away. Sree Rayalseema Alkalies and Allied Chemicals Ltd is a producer of chlor-alkali products and manufactures castor derivatives and fatty acids. Just 5kms away from Byrapuram, the factory has been consistently dumping toxic chemical waste into the waters of the Thungabadra, which is their primary source of water for irrigation. The agricultural lands have also been affected, leaving most of it barren.
K. Baleshwar Iya owned 3 acres of land. “I tried drip irrigation. The water we get now is very salty. The roots of my cotton plan dried up because of the high chlorine content in it. I lost all my land.” He has not been compensated for it. According to test results conducted by Government officials, the water samples contained a very high quantity of harmful Chlorides and Sulphates. The quantity of Total Dissolved Salts (TDS) was also much higher than the permissible limits. Even the drinking water has 6% fluoride in it.
Ex-deputy Sarpanch, Boda Narayan
“The impact of the factory’s pollution can be understaood by the fact that that even grass is dying when irrigated with this water”, said Boya Narayana, the ex-Deputy Sarpanch.
The villagers tried bore wells to draw out water but even that failed as the factory have deeper bore wells that drain the water entirely.
The reason why there has hardly been any intervention from the State is simple. Rajya Sabha MP, T.G Venkatesh is the proprietor of the alkalies factory. TG, as he is called, has monopoly over the entire place. “Complaints don’t work here. Sampath Kumar is the MLA from here but even then, TG’s influence is higher. Most of us here are scared of him”, said the Boda Narayana.
When asked Mallikha Arjuna, the Mandal Parishad Development Officer (MPDO) of the Almapur region regarding the ground water contamination in Byrapuram, he said, “We have forwarded all the complaints to the District Collector. Any action should be taken from there.”
Stuck in the political rivalry of Telangana and Rayalseema, Byrapuram has been entirely isolated. The Sarpanch, Monica Ramana is affiliated with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), while TG is from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the MLA, Sampath Kumar, is from Congress. Constant rifts between the elected leaders mean that the villagers’ woes go unheard.
The villagers claim that all the reporters are bribed by TG because nobody writes about them. There have been cases of the Press reporting on the issues but it incidentally only ever happens during the elections. “You people only come, write and go. Even if the Prime Minister comes, this village won’t be developed”, said K. Ramudu, dejectedly.
Although a rudimentary water purifier has been installed in the village, the villagers are charged Rs. 3 for the water and an additional fee is charged for the maintenance of it. “The water purifier breaks down sometimes and the cost to repair it is too high. There has to be another way”, Ramana, the husband of Monica Ramana, said. He was part of the Panchayat meeting. He manages most of the issues here while his wife presides over the official meetings.
The employment of the village has come down by 90%, as most of the villagers depended on agriculture for their survival. Now rendered jobless, they are venturing out to Hyderabad and Kurnool for petty labour. The reason why most of them are leaving the village in search of a job is because MGNREGA is not efficient here.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is an Indian labour law and social security measure that guarantees the ‘right to work’. It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Last year, a few men managed to get employment under MGNREGA through middlemen. While the government scheme clearly states that a wage of Rs. 96 per day is the minimum and Rs. 194 per day is the maximum, many villagers got paid as low as Rs. 30 and only two of them got Rs. 60, which was the highest amount they got. This did not encourage the villagers to apply for this again.
Vijay Shankar, the Additional Project Officer of the Alampur Mandal, denied this. “The more you work the more money you get. They get paid according to their work. Even the pay order only gets generated if you work for Rs. 60. So it is not possible to be paid that less”, he stated.
Even though the two main issues in the village are the lack of pure drinking water and unemployment, the state of deprivation is evident. Despite the fact that Byrapuram and the neighbouring village, Barsapuram, are the only two villages in Telangana to have a government school till std 10, there are no toilets there. Byrapuram has 2000 people and 1700 registered voters and not one household has built a toilet. They say there is no point in spending money on toilets when there is no water.
There is a private clinic that is open from 10 a.m to 2 p.m but it is only for first aid. The more serious cases will have to go to the Government Hospital in Kurnool. Although there is free ambulance service provided by the State, many have lost their lives because the village is not equipped to deal with emergencies. Ramudu’s wife died of a stroke on the way to the hospital.
The hostility towards the media from the government officials working there is apparent. As we were interacting with the villagers, we were interrupted by the Assistant Project Manager of the Mandal, Syed Sultan, who took us aside and asked, “what problems did the villagers tell you about?”
The villagers are desperate for any help or any intervention from the State. They say they were promised but none of those promises were delivered to them. There are TRS and Congresss supporters in the village but all have just one thing to say, “Our problems are real. Please help us.”