Ground Report: As progress graces Pulivendula doorstep, health and agrarian concerns deepen within mine

In Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy's constituency of Pulivendula, progress is evident in various forms, but alongside it, concerns persist, particularly regarding health and agrarian issues exacerbated by mining activities.

BySumit Jha

Published May 04, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedMay 12, 2024 | 9:11 AM

Ground Report: As progress graces Pulivendula doorstep, health and agrarian concerns deepen within mine

In the scorching heat, Singamsetty Venkata Siva walked alongside the wired fences that separated his agricultural field from a tailing pond — which stores waste materials left over from ore extraction processes.

“It’s a tailing pond of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) mining plant located in the Tummalapalle village 6 km away,” said Siva, a resident of the KK Kotala village in the Pulivendula Assembly constituency of the YSR (Kadapa) district of Andhra Pradesh.

“All the byproducts from the mine are being dumped here through pipelines,” he explained to speaking to South First.

At the junction of Mabbuchintalapalle, women, children, and the elderly stood in a line with water canisters in front of a box-like building. A few metres away stood a borewell, with no one daring to approach it.


“We’ve come to get RO water. It’s the safest water available here,” said a woman while filling her container.

“This UCIL has brought hardships to our lives, affecting both our farming yields — such as banana, groundnuts, and sweet lime — and our health, especially impacting the women of our village,” lamented Siva.

The sitting MLA of Pulivendula is currently the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh: YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.

The UCIL plant commenced production in 2012, and the people of KK Kotala village began experiencing health and livelihood issues a few years later.

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The UCIL problem

Map of the plant, tailing pond, and villages

In 2006, the then chief minister and local MLA YS Rajasekhara Reddy — Jagan’s father — brought UCIL to Tummalapalle with the promise that villages surrounding the plant would receive compensation for their land and jobs for each family.

“Four villages where the mine was being set up — Tummalapalle, Mabbuchintalapalle, Bhoomayyagaripalle, and Rachakuntapalle, along with the tailing pond near KK Kottala village — were promised compensation for their land and jobs for each family,” recalled Siva.

They were also promised schools and hospitals to serve the nearby villages.

However, the land acquisition process was coercive, and villagers faced police action.

“After the public hearing, people were taken to Jaduguda in Jharkhand, where UCIL had already set up a plant. They were shown residential complexes, hospitals, educational institutions, and the facilities provided to employees in Jaduguda,” recounted former Mabbuchintalapalle sarpanch Sreenath Reddy.

“People here believed that similar facilities would be provided to them. However, the reality turned out to be far from that,” he told South First.

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The tailing pond and concerns

Construction of the plant began in 2008, and the mining operations had started producing 3,000 tonnes of crude uranium by 2012.

However, issues soon began to arise in the villages — primarily due to the tailing pond — with KK Kotala and Mabbuchintalapalle being the most affected.

Siva standing beside the tailing pond.

The tailing pond spans approximately 150 acres and is situated between a hillock and a wall. Positioned above the KK Kotala village, the pond is surrounded by hundreds of acres of land belonging to residents of KK Kotala and Mabbuchintalapalle.

“People started experiencing issues around 2016-17. For the first few years, we didn’t even realise what was causing problems in our lives, both in terms of livelihood and health,” explained Sreenath Reddy.

He further elaborated that the detailed project report by UCIL had suggested that water contamination in boreholes around the locality would range between 2 and 8 parts per billion (ppb) of uranium.

“After our protest in 2016-17, when the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board took the samples from different boreholes, they had 400-1100 ppb of uranium. The safe limit is 20 ppb of uranium in the water,” explained Reddy.

Problems appeared to have arisen from the fact that they did not implement the recommended measures, such as using bentonite clay with an eight-inch thickening, 250 microns of polythene, and an additional 250 mm of sand and clay on top of it.

“The issue lies in the fact that the waste material dumped into the pond is mixed with the surrounding water. Furthermore, during the rainy season, additional water seeps out of the pond. Over time, uranium particles and other waste materials dumped into the pond began to seep into the groundwater,” claimed Sreenath Reddy.

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The agrarian problems

UCIL plant and tailing pond

As the particles mixed with the groundwater, agriculture bore the brunt of the impact, said the locals.

“I used to cultivate banana plants on my land, which is situated right beside the pond. However, the leaves began to turn black from 2017 onwards, and white particles could be seen on the ground and around the borewell mouths,” recalled Siva.

“Flowers usually appear in the sixth month after banana trees are planted. However, these plants were stunted, and it took longer for the flowers to bloom,” said Sreenath Reddy.

“It took 11 months for the flowers to appear, and even then, the fruits took longer to ripen. The fruits also ripened before reaching their original size,” he added.

White particles on the borewells. (Sumit Jha/South First)

He noted that they used to send the bananas to Chandigarh, Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, but had to stop doing so because the fruits from the newer harvests did not ripen properly.

They used to ripen after 10-12 days in the mandi. However, now they ripen early in the field, leading to the loss of the entire banana season.

“We have resorted to growing groundnuts, which are not as profitable, but it’s the only option left for us,” said Siva.

Another issue arising from the UCIL plant was the use of dynamite for mining purposes.

“UCIL uses tons of dynamite every day, leading to pollution in the air and vibrations in the ground due to the hilly terrain. In almost all the villages, large holes measuring 10-15 metres wide and deep have appeared in agricultural lands, and even the walls of houses are developing cracks,” said Sreenath Reddy.

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The health issues

As the election approaches and with most of the schemes being women-centric under the YSRCP government, many women are hesitant to speak openly about the hardships they face due to the UCIL plant.

However, they freely shed light on the difficulties they endure when speaking on condition of anonymity.

2013 satellite image shows UCIL did not put any protective layer in the tailing pond.

The women said health issues across the villages worsened after the tailing pond was established. “We used to drink water from the borewells, where quality worsened. The air we breathed also became a concern,” explained a woman from KK Kotala.

“During summer, when the pond dried up, high-speed winds would carry waste material to our villages,” she added.

According to villagers, the pollution led to two main health issues: Skin infections and reproductive issues.

“By 2018-19, skin problems had become widespread, with many villagers developing rashes and black spots at the infected sites on the body,” said a woman from KK Kotala.

Reproductive health was the most concerning issue. “The menstrual cycle duration increased significantly, with women experiencing menstruation for 12-15 days every month. Many women had to undergo hysterectomies at a young age — around 26-27,” revealed a woman from Tummalapalle.

She added that another challenge was the inability to sustain pregnancies. “Many women experienced miscarriages. In others abnormalities were detected in the foetus during ultrasound sonography,” said the woman.

“Consequently, abortions were often necessary even after four months of pregnancy. Those who were born had low birth weight and heart issues,” she added.

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Unfulfilled promises compound problems

Since the UCIL plant was set up, these five villages have encountered a multitude of issues, including agrarian problems, health concerns, migration, and employment challenges.

“My village’s population used to be around 800, but many people who faced issues have moved out, renting places in Pulivendla town or even migrating to larger cities like Hyderabad,” said Siva.

He added that those whose lands were acquired by UCIL did not receive promised jobs, leading to their departure. Additionally, some left due to concerns about pollution and its consequences.

UCIL initially promised jobs for each family but later changed it to only those whose land was acquired.

“Some land notified for acquisition by UCIL wasn’t even acquired, and the affected families received neither compensation nor jobs. Now, the land documents don’t even show ownership in the family’s name, leading to court cases,” explained Sreenath Reddy.

While UCIL claimed in its DPR that 950 direct jobs would be created, only 550 posts were filled, with 350 of them being land-acquired individuals. Most of the 2,000 mine workers are employed on a contract or a daily-wage basis.

Moreover, men from outside these villages hesitate to marry their daughters here due to concerns about women’s reproductive health.

People getting in line to get water. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Though UCIL installed water tanks for drinking after protests, villagers still grapple with agrarian and health issues.

Despite an RO plant in Mabbuchintalapalle, villagers have to pay ₹2 for 15 litres of water.

“It’s not just contamination or pollution but also radiation that persists in the environment for years,” said Sreenath Reddy.

UCIL also pledged plantations, schools, hospitals, and quarters akin to Jaduguda, but failed to fulfil these promises, said the locals.

“Before the 2019 election, when YS Jagan Mohan Reddy visited our villages, he promised to address the issues, but there has been no follow-up,” alleged Siva.

“Some of his representatives even warned that pressuring UCIL might result in non-local hiring for contractual work, with workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh being favoured,” he added.

Also read: YSRCP skirts ECI ban on volunteers to segregate voters along party lines

The political pulse 

Seethama, in her 60s, was waiting for an auto-rickshaw outside, in the scorching heat, near the Old Bus Stand in Pulivendla.

“I have to travel from the Chinnapalle village to Vijayawada. The bus from the village drops us here — at the Old Bus Stand — charging ₹20. But now, I have to go to the New Bus Stand, which costs ₹30 because they shifted it 3 km away. I have to pay that extra ₹30 each time,” she explained.

However, she was still a supporter of the volunteer system implemented by YSRCP, which is currently in power in the state.

“I receive my pension at my doorstep, and because my granddaughter attends school, my daughter-in-law benefits from the Amma Vodi scheme,” she explained.

At a tea shop in Velidandla village late in the evening, several men were gathered to buy cold water pouches, being sold for ₹2 each.

Some were purchasing them to quench their thirst, while others intended to mix them with their tipple, which they would sip quietly behind the shop.

A man in his early 20s comes to take two more water pouches. “This guy has cut his hands thrice for Jagan,” remarked the shopkeeper.

“Not thrice; only twice,” corrected the man in his 20s, talking nonchalantly about indulging in self-harm to show his support for a political leader.

The shopkeeper then pulled up the man’s shirt, revealing cut marks. “He’s a Jagan zealot. Whenever Jagan visits this village, this guy starts crying and cuts his hand with a blade to get attention,” he explained. Asked why he did it, the man ran behind the shop and became engrossed in his drink.

Meanwhile, the shopkeeper remarked that everyone in the constituency loved Jagan, but this man’s actions were extreme attempts to garner attention during rallies or visits.

The Pulivendula Assembly constituency has been held by Jagan Mohan Reddy, his mother, late father, and uncle since 1978.

The Opposition party — TDP — has never won an election here, except once in 1962 when independent candidate Chavva Bali Reddy emerged victorious. Otherwise, it has been under the control of Congress and later YSRCP.

New medical college in Pulivendula. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Jagan is a voter in the Pulivendula constituency, and development in this rural area — particularly in Rayalaseema — surpasses that of other constituencies.

With a population of 50,000, the town boasts a ring road, a government engineering college, biotech and construction material industries, and, starting this year, a medical college.

However, Opposition leaders claim that the current MLA has not brought any new industries to the area in the last five years, even after becoming chief minister.

“Whatever development has occurred in the constituency was initiated by his father, the previous MLA. The youth lack employment opportunities and have to seek work in other cities,” the constituency’s TDP candidate Mareddy Rabindranath Reddy told South First.

Better known as BTech Ravi among locals, he further criticised the government’s insurance scheme, labelling it a failure, particularly for the 60 percent of the constituency’s population who are farmers.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)