Ground Report: Promises scribbled on water, Pawan Kalyan’s glitzy blitz in Pithapuram

Since 1951, Pithapuram has been grappling with longstanding issues, including water scarcity, mismanagement in flood control, and large-scale sea erosion.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published May 10, 2024 | 7:26 PMUpdatedMay 11, 2024 | 12:18 PM

Samudra Putrulu gazing at the sea from the last row of huts. (South First)

Fishermen have a covenant with water. The boats are secured on the shore, and men sit around, repairing the fishing nets spread on the beach. In between, they helped the womenfolk with household chores, a rarity in other months of the year.

The spawning season has commenced, and the Samudra Putrulu — sons of the sea — stayed on land, honouring the covenant. Some are seen waiting with kalash, the traditional containers, near the village’s only water tank, to see the tap running.

A sudden commotion denoted the tap coming live, with the villagers of Uppada jostling to collect water from their only source. For the villagers of Uppada and Aminabada in the Pithapuram Assembly constituency, life revolves around water — the sea and the water tank.

The sea often — now at regular intervals — breaches the unsaid and unwritten covenant, sending its waves roaring and crashing on the beach, taking away part of the coast with it. The helpless fishermen are then forced to watch the sea claiming their huts.

Uppada’s Beach Road stands testimony to the sea’s fury. Despite a battlement-like seawall running along it, the road looked battered, the scars it had earned in the battle with the sea.

It is an irony wrapped in a paradox. The villages lining the coast have to wait at taps for hours to get water, the elixir of life, even as the sea houses millions of lives.

Along the coast in fishermen’s villages, life goes on with its natural ebb and flow.

Ground Report: Pulivendula’s health and uranium concerns deepen

Preserver and destroyer

The sea is the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer, all rolled into one for the villagers.

The only water tank in Uppada village, Pithapuram. (South First)

The only water tank in Uppada village, Pithapuram. (South First)

About a dozen fishermen were idling under the shade on the beach. One of them pointed at the sea, barely 30 metres away. “The movie, Uppena, was filmed there. Now the location is underwater,” he drew attention to the sea erosion that has been eating up the shore.

Romantic drama Uppena (high tide) depicted the love affair of a fisherman, coincidentally, during a spawning season. The 2021 Telugu movie went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu.

Sea erosion has forced fishermen to move further inland, and at least 150-200 houses have been taken away by advancing waters. Despite the rapid pace of coastal erosion, many fishermen continue to live in huts abutting the sea, hoping for government support.

The sea is their provider. They can’t move far, since their existence is dependent on the sea that destroys their huts.

Once again, it is election time, the season in which promises spawn, and as the fishermen say, die before long.

Ground Report: Political shifts, promises mark Lok Sabha race for Warangal

Sea of uncertainty 

“We are staring at uncertainty as our repeated requests for geotextile tube protection against sea erosion are being ignored. Some effort was made in 2007, but they were washed away along with several,” he said.

Bedi Satyavati, along with her granddaughter and husband, pose for a picture. (South First)

Bedi Satyavati with her husband and their granddaughter. (South First)

Kare Rambabu and Vasupilli Vijay further told South First that they sleep in small huts on the shore. “Forget having our own houses,” they said. “All we ask for is protection from coastal erosion.”

The men pointed to a spot more than a hundred metres away, where they had to relocate to escape the rising waters.

“How much farther should we move? This is our profession, this is our base. We can’t leave this place and survive by doing something else or in another town,” they added.

Bedi Satyavati raised another water-related problem. Accessing potable water is like reaching for the moon, she said.

“We keep waiting for government support, but it’s non-existent,” she said. The woman digs into her meagre savings to buy water to quench the thirst of her children.

Ground Report: Scant job opportunities in Kuppam make life easier for Bengalureans

Changing issues of Pithapuram

The landscape changes as the road passes through Pithapuram Town and nears the Gollaprolu mandal. Lush green farmlands add to the overall verdancy of Gollaprolu village.

Petrichor filled the nostrils as the village received a cool shower. Around 10 farmers, who had just finished harvesting, stood in the rain, enjoying each drop of respite from the scorching sun. Their discussion that revolved around tilling the fields soon changed to monsoon.

If coastal erosion was the main concern along the coast, the farmers of Gollaprolu were worried about floods that unfailingly kept a date with the village every monsoon.

Floods, the farmers said, became regular after the construction of the Yeleru Reservoir. The reservoir discharges heavy volumes during rains, inundating more than 10,000 acres of farmlands in the villages.

Ground Report: Silent screams of farmers, weavers may have final say in Mangalagiri

Promises written on water

The farmers blamed inadequate and incomplete drainage facilities for the flooding. They said they had to wade several kilometres to reach their fields during the rains.

The farmers in Gollaprolu village gather at their village junction during their leisure time. (South First)

The farmers in Gollaprolu gather at the village junction. (South First)

“The Suddagadda and Konda Kaluva drains should lead to the sea, which otherwise will flood our villages. This problem has been persisting for a decade,” farmer Satyanarayana said. “All the leaders have promised to address this issue, but so far, nothing has been done,” he added about the promises written on water.

Villagers said water gushes in through breaches in the Yeleru Canal, submerging Gollaprolu.

Another farmer, Govindraju said the fields were often flooded before the harvest. “Each of us suffers losses above ₹1 lakh, but the compensation for crop loss is capped at ₹40,000,” he said.

The farmers said they were lucky to have harvested the crops before the floodwater rushed in. “But there’s no guarantee for the next one,” Govindraju said.

Interview: Naidu may be a stalwart but we will win Kuppam, says KRJ Bharath

Pithapuram’s life in contrast

A railway line separates Gollaprolu from its neighbouring village Surampeta. Though a kilometre apart, both villages are at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

While Gollaprolu grapples with floods, Surampeta would be searching for potable water.

Entering Surampeta itself is a tough task. Vehicles skid and bounce on the slushy mud path. Those opting to walk would soon find their shoes heavy with muck. The villagers, however, get the same promises in abundance during each election season.

This time too, they have been promised a decent road through which they could travel with dignity — and a solution for their water woes.

Water tanker operators are reluctant to operate in Surampeta. The occasional tanker rations the water to the villagers. They never get adequate water.

Ground Report: Alcohol, ‘disappearing’ girls and more

Curse of Mangayamma

Aytha Devi, a resident, said the groundwater is saline. Plants wilt, and even cleaning utensils is difficult, she said.

Parvatha Esubabu points to the pipes from where the water, deemed unfit for use, is sourced. (South First)

Parvatha Esubabu points to the pipes from where the water, deemed unfit for use, is sourced. (South First)

“The water provided by government tankers is barely sufficient. Hence, we’ve sent our children out to live with our parents,” she added.

Kola Mangayamma cursed her marriage when asked about water. “I was cursed into getting married into this village. Our fate is such that no one cares about us,” she lamented.

Kola Venkatramana, a daily wage labourer, said while heavy rains flooded the village, potable water was in short supply. “We use the same unhygienic water that animals also drink,” he said.

R Nageswar Rao was sitting with Venkatramana. “Will boycotting the elections solve our problems? No, it won’t. Each time, we hope that someone will address our issues, but we end up being deceived,” he added.

Interview: Chevella BJP candidate Konda Vishweshwar Reddy insists he has ‘no competition’

Glitz in Pithapuram

Life is not as beautiful as the silver screen. Yet the vehicle with loudspeakers attached rattled through the narrow, winding streets of Pithapuram, now in the Kakinada district.

Actors and a choreographer from the Telugu film industry on the campaign trail. (South First)

Actors and a choreographer from the Telugu film industry on the campaign trail. (Supplied)

Barbi Bommaki… the song from Teenmaar, a movie featuring Pawan Kalyan and Trisha, rose over the din, even as movie and TV serial actors, several of them unknown to the startled residents, visited households.

Swanky cars shared space with bullock carts, tractors and other vehicles on narrow roads.

Photographers, YouTubers and journalists swarmed the constituency from where Pawan Kalyan, the Jana Sena Party leader, has decided to seek a mandate to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. Bands belted out numbers, again from Teenmaar.

The glitzy blitz unleashed on Pithapuram has eclipsed the grave issues the constituency has been facing. People rushed to click selfies with celebrities, even as the stars who descended on the 73-year-old constituency shared meals with the residents.

Interview:  AP on track to become a leader in green energy production says Chalamalasetty Sunil

Talking points

Discussions about coastal erosion, floods, water shortage and hollow promises took a backseat as voters animatedly discussed the celebrities’ dietary preferences, and exchanged gossips that mostly defied logic.

YSRCP’s sitting MLA Dorababu Pendem is not in the fray this time. Considering the anti-incumbency factor, the party decided against fielding him, and instead deployed Kakinada MP Vanga Geetha Viswanath to retain the Assembly seat.

Pithapuram Assembly 2024. (Click to view enlarged image)

Pithapuram Assembly 2024. (Click to enlarge)

This change aligns with a community-based strategy as well. Both Kalyan and Geetha are from the Kapu community. Kalyan, who unsuccessfully contested from Bhimavaram and Gajuwaka in 2019, is now part of an alliance with the BJP and TDP.

He aims to make his Assembly debut in these elections by focusing on the significant Kapu votes.

In total, there are 2,30,188 voters, comprising 1,15,361 men, 1,14,823 women, and four transgenders in the constituency.

The loudspeakers blared out songs from Teenmaar. The song could be heard even after the campaign vehicle had gone out of sight: Barbie Bommaki Chelleliva Baaboi Prapancha Sundariva (are you Barbie doll’s sister or world beauty) …

Far from the hustle and bustle of poll campaign, Kola Mangayamma still cursed the moment she decided to marry a man from Surampeta.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).