Land, being a most coveted investment for ages, is now speaking volumes of politics, in politics, particularly at this time of electioneering in Andhra Pradesh. While there have been regular allegations of selling out large chunks of government land in the Telangana region, the recent assertions of the retired IAS officer Chaya Ratan, who is also an Aam Admi Party (AAP) candidate for Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency, has brought back the spotlight on the murky transactions of land grabbing and selling. The revelations might not seem new, but yet are quite worrying, especially as the allegation is that the valuable resources belonging to the region are being auctioned and mortgaged indiscriminately.
“In fact, anomalies around the Telangana land and other resources are not new. When the merger of Telangana region with Andhra was mooted, one of the major demands was to safeguard the invaluable regions of Telangana. Therefore, a demand banning accession of Telangana regions to people from other regions and states was mooted,” tells Dileep K of ‘Mission Telangana’ to The Sunday Indian.
Predicting the influx of affluent and enterprising families from the fertile delta of coastal Andhra, leaders from Telangana put forth the demand, which was included in the first draft of a Gentleman’s Agreement between the two regions. But it was deleted from the final draft in 1956. One would remember that during the regimes of Chandrababu Naidu and Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (who was later killed in a chopper crash), there were many protests from leaders of Telangana on the region being allotted indiscriminately to business houses and other institutions.
“Successive governments of Chandra Babu Naidu and YS Rajasekhar Reddy have auctioned off thousands of acres of valuable areas in and around Hyderabad to their cronies. In fact, these regions were a legacy left behind by the erstwhile Nizams and rightfully belonged to our people of Hyderabad,” K Taraka Ramarao, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader and son of TRS supremo K Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) said.
According to Mission Telangana, in YSR’s regime, thousands of acres of farmland was grabbed from hapless farmers and sold to industrialists for a profit. Even after YSR’s death, critics allege that the Congress government led by Seemandhra Chief Ministers is allegedly following the same route.
Sniffing out the possible bifurcation of the State, land transactions in the recent past, particularly during YSR rule and post-YSR regime, reached a crescendo. Using various government agencies like Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC), Andhra Pradesh Housing Board (APHB), Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA), the YSR government sold various regions, with an aim of generating crores of rupees. For example, one would remember that HMDA was on a spree to auction several plots in and around Hyderabad, including those in the posh and elitist areas like Nandagiri Hills near Jubilee Hills.
While the same may also have been done to ensure profitable valuation of a non-earning landmass, the state government was severely panned for the attempts to dispose the same; enraged TRS leaders like KCR had warned that the new TRS government in Telangana would take back all assigned lands, Bhoodan lands, wakf and gurukul trust lands thus given away. Chaya Ratan, who was part of the system being a special chief secretary, met up with TSI to give her insights into it.
Born on January 26, 1953, Chaya Ratan is a post-graduate in political science. During her illustrious career spanning over three and half decades, the 1977-batch IAS officer of Andhra cadre served various departments. Chaya, with an outstanding record of integrity and contributions to all the fields whereever she had worked, is credited with introducing several pioneering measures to bring about accountability, transparency, stakeholder equity, quality improvements, corruption/unethical practices removal in the government.
Generally, cash strapped governments indulge in selling of land to raise funds for developmental projects. What was unusual that made you object to the government policy?
The regions should ideally be used to set up government infrastructure and build homes for the downtrodden. Land is also essential for public amenities like parks, sports complexes etc. Land resources must be preserved for the prospects of the future generations. Land selling in and around the affluent Hyderabad was done in the YSR regime rampantly and unusually. Some funds were earmarked in budget solely for land promotion. I was very explicit to YSR and opposed the indiscriminate sale of land. He turned a deaf ear to my objections. The welfare government should not be a realtor.
The YSR government floated a government corporation named Deccan Infrastructure and Land Holdings (DILL) for acquiring and selling government land. The government-promoted company was created primarily for construction of integrated townships, leveraging on its land bank for developing integrated townships and taking up joint ventures. The corporation is right now bulging with a landbank of 7,000 acres, mostly transferred land from Ranga Reddy and Hyderabad districts.
It is alleged by some that land worth several thousands of crores was gifted to Seemandhra plutocrats at throwaway prices. What is your comment?
YSR had shone a spotlight on the crucial role played by the Congress-run government in turning realty in the state into a business worth thousands of crores of rupees.
Records of all licences granted by the government obviously convey a compelling story – a story of political alchemy in which farmland turns into gold for all those fortunate enough to acquire acreage and the permission required to undertake commercial development on it. Wherever land sales reach such peaks, corruption levels also soar to that level. So, it is not a question of to whom the lands were allocated; the basic question is on the magnitude of allocations. The truth behind the land selling must at least be revealed now. What was the market value of the land and what was the selling price? Why was it sold at throwaway prices? These are some of the questions to be probed. I agree that these regions were a legacy left behind by the erstwhile Nizams and rightfully belonged to the people of Hyderabad. The recently mooted idea of taking back all assigned land, Bhoodan lands, wakf and gurukul trust lands usurped by unscrupulous elements is also commendable.
Now you have plunged into politics. What is your aim? Would you cooperate with the future government of Telangana in probing the land deals?
After being consistently in service for 35 years, I thoroughly understood the attitude of politicians. I struggled to discharge my duties in the interests of the public. While going towards the tide, I had to fight; and I was even sidelined and humiliated.
Special allocation for the welfare of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities is highlighted in every Budget. But what really happens to these huge sums is a question. Budgets meant for SC/ST welfare have remained unspent for years in many departments. I strongly made a point to the then Chief Minister YSR to set up a special fund with the unspent money and to use it explicitly for the welfare of SCs and STs. But YSR did not relent. So I am upset and utterly disappointed. After retirement, I decided to serve the people by directly entering politics. My values match with those of the Aam Aadmi Party. The party is vehemently opposed to corruption and this is what I liked in it. AAP decided to field me from the Secunderabad constituency.