Ground Report: Local schemes, guarantees make hopes fly high in Narsampet

The sitting BRS MLA Peddi Sudarshan Reddy is one again contesting from the constituency, while Donthi Madhava Reddy of the Congress is riding on the six guarantees.

BySumit Jha

Published Nov 14, 2023 | 11:00 AM Updated Nov 14, 2023 | 12:42 PM

Ground Report: Local schemes, guarantees make hopes fly high in Narsampet

With the Telangana Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t.

Tall palmyra trees line the road to Pakhal Lake in Narsampet. By the road was Srinu, who stopped sharpening his knife against a wooden plank to adjust his talapaga (turban), before going back to work.

“This is my third tree today,” the 62-year-old man clad in a blue T-shirt and khaki half-pants said as he secured a rubber harness around one of the Palmyra trees. He cast a look at the tree top and with an ease that comes with experience, and climbed the tall tree.

A few minutes later, he came down and proudly showed the palm wine he had collected. “I tap 10 trees each in the morning and evening. By evening I will have 30 pots of kallu (toddy),” he told South First.

Spurt in liquor shops

Pakhalashok Nagar is a village of toddy tappers. Most men, like Srinu, are involved in the trade of tapping the white liquid, as toddy is popularly known in the locality.

Srinu preparing to climb the third tree of the day. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Srinu preparing to climb the third tree of the day. (Sumit Jha/South First)

“During the Covid-19 time, people from different parts of the state came to our village for the white liquid. It was popular at that time because liquor shops were all closed. People from even Hyderabad used to sit in my tent. They not only paid for the toddy but also blessed us as they were getting at least something to get high,” Srinu said.

The Covid-19 days were a blessing for Srinu. He had in two months earned ₹70,000, much more than his usual monthly revenue of ₹25,000. “That was the only time I earned more by selling kallu,” he pointed out.

People of Telangana — the state with the second-highest liquor consumption in the country according to National Family and Health Survey-5 — had found themselves in a quandary as liquor shops closed as part of the lockdown during Covid-19.

Once the government allowed inter-district movement, people thronged Narsampet in search of toddy tappers. In May and June 2020, toddy sales surged, a fact acknowledged by the state Excise Department.

However, what followed was an increase in liquor shops. “Now, in every lane, every village, there is a liquor shop. The government has granted licences. When people can get beer for ₹120, why should they seek us for toddy,” Srinu asked.

Srinu even pointed out a location where one can buy liquor as early as 8 in the morning.

Narsampet Assembly constituency

Narsampet Assembly constituency in numbers. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Traditional occupation

“My grandfather tapped toddy, my father did the same, and so do I. I have two sons, and one of them is following in my footsteps. We used to live a life coexisting with alcohol. Now, alcohol has become too common, and people are gravitating towards it. The government is issuing licences to everyone to open a shop. Earlier, I had to travel to Narsampet to buy alcohol. Now, you can find liquor right in my village,” he pointed out.

He is worried about the easy availability of alcohol affecting his income. Srinu then offered a philosophical justification. “It’s the culture that is changing, and it’s not happening in the right direction. Even after having kallu, people used to work in the agricultural fields. Now, mostly women work in the fields while men down pegs in some corners,” he said.

Though he has a grudge against the opening of many liquor shops, he is grateful for being covered under the Geetha Karmikula Bhima, an insurance scheme floated by the Telangana government for toddy tappers.

Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao announced the Geetha Karmikula Bima in May, mirroring the Rythu Bheema scheme for farmers. Under this scheme, the kin of a deceased toddy tapper would receive ₹5 lakh for any cause of death.

“All the tappers in my village have been insured under this scheme. So far, no accidents have occurred, so I can’t say if this is just for namesake or if it will work as promised,” Srinu remarked.

In addition to the insurance scheme, Srinu highlighted the Asara pension, which, despite having an age limit of 57 years, has proven beneficial for the tappers’ community with a lower age limit of 50 years.

“We started receiving it earlier. My wife faced a bit of struggle initially because her Aadhaar card was not updated, but when she turned 52, she began to get the pension,” he said.

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Loan for buffaloes

In Rakenpally village located in the Duggondi Mandal of Narsampet constituency, only 12 have received funds through the Dalit Bandhu scheme. This scheme offers ₹10 lakh each to beneficiary families to pursue a livelihood of their choice, aiming to alleviate poverty.

Tirupathi with his buffalo. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Tirupathi with his buffalo. (Sumit Jha/South First)

However, for Tirupathi, a 48-year-old Dalit from the same village, the assistance took a different form. “KCR sir provided a loan to buy buffaloes,” he told South First.

In Narsampet, around 658 people secured loans of ₹4 lakh each for purchasing buffaloes. This initiative was part of a dairy scheme that offers four buffaloes to each Dalit family. While 60 percent of the unit cost is subsidised by the government, Vijaya Dairy extends the remaining 40 percent as a loan to the beneficiaries.

“I received ₹4 lakhs for the buffaloes, and recently, I paid off the ₹1 lakh loan as well,” Tirupathi smiled.

Excited about the schemes, Tirupathi expressed hope of receiving the Dalit Bandhu after the elections. He is happy over the Kalyana Lakshmi, Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bheema, Crop Compensation, and other schemes.

While conversing with South First, a fellow villager intervened and urged Tirupathi to emphasise that the benefits of the schemes are not limited to a specific political party.

“Not only for us, everyone, irrespective of party affiliations, is getting the schemes — from the BJP, BRS, Communist party; everyone got the benefit of the schemes,” Tirupathi added.

Subsequently, the villager, identified as Manoj, proceeded to elaborate on the various schemes and offered a guided tour of the village to showcase beneficiaries of the Dalit Bandhu Scheme. Most houses in the village displayed posters or flags related to BRS.

“I also received the Dalit Bandhu and started a cement shop. And, yes, we will vote for the BRS,” Manoj said.

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The unheard voices

While the men of Rakenpally village actively engaged in political discussions, the absence of women in the houses during the afternoon prompted an inquiry. Tirupathi explained that they were in the “field”.

On the outskirts of the village, women, clad in sarees and shirts, are working in the cotton and chilli fields.

Vijayalakshmi in the chilli field. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Near the small town of Laknepally, Vijayalakshmi was with a group of six women working in the field. She is a tenant farmer and her family cultivates around two acres, of which they own 15 guntas. The rest belongs to others.

“We grow cotton in 15 guntas, and in the remaining land, we cultivate chillies, because it’s more profitable… but also risky; cotton is a stable crop,” she shared.

Vijayalakshmi, belonging to the Backward Classes (BC) community, mentioned that her family is comfortable being tenant farmers. However, she expressed concern, stating, “I am doing the farming, but the Rythu Bandhu money, which is meant for buying crops and fertilisers, goes to the owner of the land. I have to buy these products using money from our own pockets.”

Similarly, Srinu expressed his major concern with the government regarding Rythu Bandhu. “My family, which is also dependent on tenant farming, is not receiving Rythu Bandu. The owner, who owns 15 acres and has given two acres to us for farming, is getting ₹1.5 lakh every six months. We have to struggle to find the money for fertilizers and seeds,” he explained.

On being informed that the people in her village, Rakenpally, were praising the government schemes, she remarked: “People who are close to the BRS party get those benefits. The 12 people who received the Dalit Bandhu are BRS party cadres, and the dairy scheme went to those who are close to the BRS.”

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The political battlefield

The Narsampet Assembly constituency in the Warangal district of Telangana is predominantly a rural area that has elected the CPI four times.

Manda Srinivas. (Sumit Jha/South First)

Manda Srinivas. (Sumit Jha/South First)

The party first won the constituency in 1967 when Arshanpalli Venkateshwar Rao defeated his nearest Congress rival. Subsequently, Maddikayala Omkar, a prominent communist leader, claimed the seat in 1972 and maintained the party’s presence for the next two terms until 1985. In 1985, Omkar contested as an independent candidate and won two consecutive times.

Later, the TDP and TRS emerged as influential players. The TDP clinched the seat three times, while the TRS secured victory twice. The current Congress candidate, Donthi Madhava Reddy, had won the seat as an independent candidate in 2014.

The sitting BRS MLA, Peddi Sudarshan Reddy secured the seat in 2018, and he is once again the party’s candidate. He had defeated Madhava Reddy of the Congress in 2018.

As the election approaches, the BRS is harping on the government schemes to woo the voters. Meanwhile, the Congress party is engaging with the electorate by highlighting its six guarantees.

Sudarshan Reddy’s popularity is being bolstered by the narrative of the upcoming Government Medical College set to open next year.

Manda Srinivas, a BRS supporter from the constituency, emphasised the significance, stating, “KCR’s government announced that in each district there will be a medical college. But here in Narasampet constituency, having a medical college is groundbreaking.”

Incidentally, Warangal already has the Kakatiya Medical College. The government decided to establish one in Narsampet to extend medical services to more rural populace.

Sudarshan Reddy is also highlighting the positive impact of the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme, particularly on Pakhal Lake.

“Kaleshwaram water reaches the Pakhal Lake and the lake provides water for both irrigation as well as drinking purpose. All the villages around Pakhal Lake are getting water and it has happened because of KCR,” said Srinivas.

Other local-level schemes, such as the dairy scheme for Dalits and subsidies for agricultural machines for farmers, add to Sudarshan Reddy’s image as an effective leader.

At the grassroots level, the Congress’s six guarantees are gaining traction among the lower strata of voters.

Vijaylakshmi expressed support for these guarantees, mentioning the promised Rythu Bandhu for tenant farmers, free electricity in households, and free bus services for women. She added, “It will be easy for us to visit Warangal if free buses are available.”

The constituency, with a population of BC communities like Mudiraj, Yadavs, and Goud, also includes around 35 percent of SC communities. Additionally, approximately 165 villages in the constituency have a significant tribal population.