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Developmental Rhetoric, Uprooted Lives

Gundlakamma Reservoir Project

K Koteswara Rao ( is at the Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Hyderabad.

Any developmental activity can be meaningful only when the dispossessed and displaced people are taken care of and adequately rehabilitated. Nevertheless, their basic rights to life and decent rehabilitation are often violated by governments and project authorities. Such violations are particularly evident in the Gundlakamma Reservoir Project in Andhra Pradesh.

The author thanks the referee for comments.

Resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) for “project-affected” people continues to be an issue of serious concern, given that those who are displaced by development projects are still disregarded by governments/authorities in project implementation. This problem persists for six-and-a-half decades since modern development projects were initiated in India; three-and-a-half decades since developmental/rehabilitation theories began considering R&R of displaced people as a part of development activity itself (Rao 2011); 14 years since the commencement of the first national policy on R&R in 2003; and four years since the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act was passed in 2013. The oustees are not only forcibly deprived of their lands and livelihoods and uprooted from their habitations (homes, lands, and habitats) in the project-affected areas, but are often not cared for and continue to be deprived of proper rehabilitation. In most cases, they belong to disadvantaged and marginalised sections. Their right to life is violated (in the name of “development”), although Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to a decent life. Such violations and refusals of R&R can be seen particularly in the case of Gundlakamma Reservoir Project (GRP) in Andhra Pradesh. This article is based on the author’s own experience of displacement, resettlement, and rehabilitation around this project.

Gundlakamma Reservoir Project

The GRP is an irrigation project in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh. It has earned the distinction of being the first out of 74 irrigation projects taken up by the state government, and for its quick completion within two years. The decision to construct this project was taken in 2004, and it was officially completed and inaugurated by the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2008. The project envisaged irrigating 80,060 acres (Hindu 2008) and supplying drinking water to 43 villages and the town of Ongole, the district headquarters.1

The Gundlakamma project affected 13 villages, including five that were completely submerged. R&R for affected people was done according to the 2005 R&R policy of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, which came into effect on 8 April 20052 as a vague rehabilitation policy (Rao 2007a).

The affected people participated in the development process of the project by fully cooperating in the construction of the dam, sometimes even sacrificing their lives and livelihoods. But, strangely (and unfortunately), they were treated so badly that it seemed as if they were not part of the developmental activity of the project at all. Uprooted people surrendered to pressure tactics mounted by authorities, political leaders (big and small), and brokers during displacement and resettlement because of the arbitrary R&R policy and actions of the state government. Of course, the R&R policy of Andhra Pradesh was amended several times, first in 2006 because of protests by the affected people of the Gundlakamma project demanding a just R&R policy. In this major amendment, two problematic provisions were rectified.3

Problems with the Project

The government/project authorities continued to disregard R&R difficulties experienced by the displaced, who continue to face certain problems at the community/village level, such as deprivation of certain basic rights and community facilities. This is perhaps because of the government’s assumption, besides their arbitrary actions, that rehabilitation ends with relocating and resettling the displaced. Clearly, this is a misconception, for the process needs to continue till the people concerned resume normal life. And, for restoring normalcy and a decent life, proper R&R as well as post-displacement/relocation support in the resettlement colonies are important. Nevertheless, the displaced, who never resisted the dam construction, have been deprived of fair R&R and basic rights due to violations of R&R provisions by, and arbitrary actions of, the authorities and the state government.

The displaced families have faced, and are still facing, various problems regarding their R&R. These problems are mainly due to the negligence of project authorities and officials in implementing R&R policy, and lack of concern towards the welfare of the affected people. For instance, some essential infrastructural facilities or basic amenities have not been provided in the resettled villages even now, several years after they were relocated (Eenadu 2012a; Murali 2011; Hindu 2012, 2013, 2016).4

These are in addition to several problems faced by displaced families in getting their compensation and rehabilitation benefits at the time of displacement and resettlement. Such problems were mainly due to corruption, negligence, and vested interest of officials and project authorities in the acquisition of land (and structures) and implementation of R&R policy (Rao 2007b; 2007c). The extent and range of corruption in this project can be gauged from various reports that have come before the public. It is reported, for example, that₹25.21 crore was collected by project officials as bribe for paying a total amount of₹134.76 crore to the displaced people towards compensation for houses/structures and R&R packages (Eenadu 2012b). Prior to this, large amounts as bribes were also collected for paying land compensation cheques to the displaced. A case against the special deputy collector for land acquisition of this project, who was also given the full additional charge (FAC) for the R&R of displaced families, was registered by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). The ACB unearthed assets worth over₹97 lakh from her residence and office, following searches conducted by ACB officials on 10 February 2010. Then, she was arrested and remanded to judicial custody by the ACB court (Hindu 2010a, 2010b). An enquiry was also held against her on the “imputations of misconduct or misbehaviour” by the Government of Andhra Pradesh.5

Scarcity of Water

Ghadiyapudi was the first fully submerged village in the project. The affected people from this village were displaced and relocated in 2006. But, even after 12 years of their resettlement at Maddipadu village, certain amenities were missing from the resettlement colony. These include potable water, earmarking of burial and cremation ground, suitable drainage, particularly for rainwater, among others.

Drinking water has still not been provided to those who have been resettled at Maddipadu village (Rao 2007b). Though some water is being supplied to them, this is not potable as it is unpurified and comes from different sources, including a pond, backwaters of the Gundlakamma, and a borewell. From the pond, dirty water was supplied for some time in the early years of resettlement. From the backwaters of Gundlakamma, the water supply has been very irregular due to lack of a separate pipeline for the village. The borewell was recently constructed to overcome the scarcity of water supplied from Gundlakamma, but this has a high level of salinity. Even the undrinkable water from the above sources is being supplied irregularly, causing trouble particularly for families of daily wage earners, with all members of these families going out for work and with nobody left at home during the daytime. The displaced people have been forced to find alternative solutions for meeting their requirements of water. Thus, those who can go out (and have cycles or motorcycles) are getting potable water from a commercial water plant located at a distance of 1.5 km from the host village, spending₹7 for 20 litres. Households that cannot do so, such as those composed only of elderly or women members, or those with no personal means of transport, have to adjust to the available water supply, which is unsafe for drinking.

These households had never faced such problems with water in Ghadiyapudi, from where they were displaced. In fact, the village was situated close to the Gundlakamma rivulet and people used to fetch spring water (from under the sand) from its banks for drinking. And, the water from the wells and borewells located around their households was also drinkable, besides being suitable for general use.

The officials involved in the project coaxed families to leave their homes for the resettlement site in different ways. One such tactic involved raising the water level in the reservoir and thereby inundating some of the houses, forcing these families to abandon the village immediately. But, when they shifted to the resettlement site, there was no water to be found for construction of houses or shelters. Though a few borewells were dug for household uses, these were not at all useful for construction purposes. The water from these borewells had a high salinity level. Moreover, these borewells were often located in sites allotted to some families, who either claimed the borewells as their own or closed/removed them. Thus, most of the public borewells were either non-functional or unavailable. The water tank intended for public water supply was also under construction, and by the time of its completion, people had already constructed their houses. Given these circumstances and the pressing need for water, people found solutions in two ways: first, fetching water from nearby ponds for their immediate and urgent needs, and second, constructing borewells to meet the pressing need of water for construction of houses and, then, for household uses. Thus, non-availability of water for construction of houses and the lack of concern and negligence of the authorities in providing basic facilities, such as water supply, led to indiscriminate construction of borewells, with people spending thousands of rupees from their rehabilitation packages.

No Burial Ground Yet

The other issue of grave concern is the lack of burial and cremation grounds for the resettled population. Today, people are going to the extent of burying or cremating the dead on the earth embankment of the canal that abuts the village or, alternatively, reusing old burial pits for new dead bodies. For instance, on 2 January 2016, while some villagers tried to dig a grave for the mortal remains of an old woman who died the previous evening, they were shocked to find a human skeleton in the same pit. The gravediggers somehow mustered the courage to throw the skeleton away in the canal to prepare a fresh pit. The people (including this author) who attended the funeral of the woman on that day also happened to see the human skeleton in the canal as there was no water in it at the time. Some people opined that the skeletal remains were of a woman who died six months before. This shows how much pressure there is for burial and cremation grounds. The death rate in the resettlement colony is very high in comparison to that of Ghadiyapudi. For instance, there were 17 deaths among 41 households (41.46%) in a single street of the resettlement colony during the past 9–10 years. In other words, one death for every 2.41 households on an average. Some of the deaths at the new/resettlement(s) of Ghadiyapudi were due to unusual reasons, which are somehow linked to the displacement and relocation.

Since the village badly needed burial and cremation grounds, different communities in the village were forced to share the small stretch of land on the earth embankment of the canal to perform funeral rites. This is unlike their normal practice of using different burial grounds with large spaces for different communities, mostly located on the banks of the Gundlakamma rivulet in Ghadiyapudi.

When villagers had demanded a burial ground during the time of their displacement, the authorities dealing with R&R convinced them that it was inauspicious to ask for it before they settled down at the resettlement site. Thus, they created a feeling among the villagers that it was bad to think of and negotiate for a burial ground. However, after relocation, neither the project authorities nor the revenue officials (who are authorised to deal with this issue) cared about the burial ground. The negligence has continued for over a decade now. When a death had occurred within the first few months of resettlement, the authorities had temporarily arranged for a burial site following an agitation by the displaced population. This was a small, marshy, and uneven piece of land filled with thorny bushes and waste water. No patta (record of rights) for this land was assigned to the resettlement colony or its displaced population. This land is now being encroached upon by landowners of the host village. It is also said that the host villagers own this piece of land. Therefore, the displaced families could do nothing but adjust to existing conditions and perform funeral rites around this marshy land or at the exhausted burial ground on the earth embankment of the canal.


The basic human rights to decent life, resettlement, and rehabilitation of displaced people continue to be violated, as becomes evident in the case of the Gundlakamma Reservoir Project and the people of Ghadiyapudi village. Such violations are due to various reasons. R&R policies are arbitrary. Often, government functionaries believe that it is both necessary and normal for displaced people to make sacrifices for the larger good, revealing their archaic mindset. R&R policies continue to be arbitrary and poorly implemented, besides “intentional negligence” of officials and authorities due to vested interests. There is, overall, a lack of concern for the welfare of displaced people, perhaps resulting also from a dearth of understanding of the impoverishment risks among displaced people (Cernea 1997; Cernea and McDowell 2000).


1 “Gundlakamma Project … A Dream Come True … For Farmers of Prakasam District,” Irrigation & CAD Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh. See Deccan Chronicle, 24 November 2008.

2 “Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Policy for Government of Andhra Pradesh, 2005,” GO Ms No 68, Irrigation and CAD (Project Wing—LA IV–R&R) Department, 8 April 2005, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad.

3 “GO Ms No 76,” Irrigation & CAD (Projects Wing—LA IV–R R I) Department, 13 April 2006, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad.

4 “GO Ms No 82,” Irrigation & CAD (PW Maj Irrig II(A1) Department, 27 April 2006, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad.

5 Public Services, Revenue Department, Smt Ramisetty Sreelatha, formerly special deputy collector, K O R Gundlakamma Project, Ongole, i/c Land Acquisition Officer, VANPIC, Chirala, Prakasam District, Departmental Proceedings under Rule 20 of APCS (CC&A) Rules, 1991, Article of Charges—Issued,” GO RT No 1299, Revenue (Vigilance-I) Department, 22 December 2015, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad.


Cernea, Michael (1997): “The Risks and Reconstruction Model for Resettling Displaced Populations,” World Development, Vol 25, No 10, pp 1569–87.

Cernea, Michael M and Christopher McDowell (eds) (2000): Risks and Reconstruction: Experiences of Resettlers and Refugees, The World Bank, Washington DC.

Eenadu (2012a): “Punaravasamlo Yanavasam” (Rehabilitation: Being an Exile), 5 May, Prakasam district ed, pp 1, 13.

— (2012b): “Lanchamesaru..!” (Bribes Thoroughly Eaten Away), 22 November, Prakasam district ed, pp 1, 13.

Hindu (2008): “YSR to Launch Gundlakamma Today,” 24 November, pradesh/ysr-to-launch-gundlakamma-today/article1381565.ece?css=print.

— (2010a): “Special Deputy Collector in ACB Net,” 11 February, 15982651.ece.

(2010b): “VANPIC Official Trapped,” 11 February,

— (2012): “Ryots Yet to Derive Benefits of Gundlakamma,” 10 September,

— (2013): “Speed Up Resettlement of Project Oustees, Officials Told,” 27 February,

(2016): “Gundlakamma Project Cost Goes Up,” 7 November, /national/andhra-pradesh/Gundlakamma-project-cost-goes-up/article16175324.ece.

Murali, S (2011): “No End in Sight to Woes of Gundlakamma Project Oustees,” Hindu, 28 March,

Rao, K Koteswara (2007a): “Spastatha Lopin-china Punaraavaasa Vidhaanam” (Vague Rehabilitation Policy), Vaartha, 21 March, Hyderabad, p 4.

— (2007b): “Gundlakamma Project: Pedanirvasithulapatla Nirlakshyam, Vivaksha” (Carelessness and Discrimination against the Poor Displaced People),” Vaartha,1 May, Hyderabad, p 4.

— (2007c): “Paradarsakathaleni Punaraavaasam” (Rehabilitation without Transparency),” Vaartha, 23 July, Hyderabad, p 4.

— (2011): “Paradoxes of Development and Neo-landlordism: A Case Study of Andhra Pradesh,” Social Action, Vol 61, No 2, pp 173–85.

Updated On : 17th Jul, 2018


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