Land grabbing in the land of Lakes!

Geographically the eastern half of the Deccan plateau, consisting mainly of Andhra Pradesh, slopes gently towards the ocean. The British survey of this territory, towards the end of eighteen hundreds, recorded 53,000 lakes, ponds and tanks which used to collect rain water for irrigation producing three bountiful harvests a year. Tanks symbolize an ancient tradition of harnessing local rainfall for replenishing ground water. The emphasis on tanks diminished during the 20th century and they experienced widespread decay and decline. Weakening of the community ownership of tanks such as those belonging to village temples is listed as the major reason for the decline. Other reasons include demographic pressure, and land encroachment issues. Tanks are functional and continue to be maintained today by informal community institutions. A 1995 survey lists only 98 small reservoirs, 2800 tanks, 32 medium reservoir and 7 large reservoirs in this area.

One such lakes near the village of Narayanaraju Peta was under litigation for many years and a village youth named Giri decided to take action. This lake was listed to be about 6 acres on the latest Government survey records while the villagers knew it be 29 acres.  When Giri brought up the issue to the government offices, the next month’s survey declared the lake size to be less than 1 acres, only 0.65 acres. Giri decided to wake up the villagers. The support of the entire village enabled Giri to stage a successful Dharna (strike) in front of the Government officers. Corruption and land grabbing has become an everyday fact in India, but few citizens realize that it impacts the ground level water. In villages it impacts agriculture and creates severe hardships for farmers.

India today is a land of Dharnas most of which are instigated by political parties. Staging a small strike costs 100-200 thousand Rupees as they are propped up by paid persons, 5000-10000 Rupees each, holding the ground.  Giri’s strike cost him a meager 2000 Rupees. Giri is an example of village youth being inspired by the trainers of the VBI (Volunteer for Better India) movement. Giri’s trainer is my friend Sudhakar Veeravalli, who left his comfortable six figure salary in Silicon Valley to inspire village youth away from alcohol, loss of motivation and a sense of victimization.

Giri emerged as the Sarpanch in the local Panchayat elections this July. Village Panchayat elections these days cost a million Rupees but Giri spent just 50,000 Rupees. The attentions of patriotic NRIs mean a lot in transforming India and everyone doesn't have to give up their US jobs to bring a change. Check out the meeting in Milpitas this Saturday