Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is having sleepless nights, and the reason is a young woman advocate bent on ensuring justice for farmers “wronged” by the state government.
Meet Rachna Reddy Bollu – a 30-year-old advocate from Nagireddypet village in Medak district – who took the Rao government to court for allegedly acquiring land from farmers for various government schemes, including the Mallanasagar reservoir project and the Palamuru-Ranga Reddy lift irrigation project, through unfair means. The administrative order issued to this effect by the Telangana government was in violation of the Central Land Acquisition Act-2013, she held.
Thanks to Rachna’s initiative, a high court division bench headed by chief justice Ramesh Ranganathan on Thursday quashed the controversial order (GO 123) empowering the government to “purchase” lands for irrigation projects with the “consent of the farmers” instead of following the procedure laid down in the land acquisition legislation.
Rao’s agitation over the advocate’s initiative was evident from his outburst in the state assembly, where he accused her of being part of a “gang” that was hell-bent on stalling irrigation projects. “This lady advocate – Rachna Reddy – goes to every place projects are proposed, whether it is the Sundilla barrage, Pamulaparthi project or Mallannasagar project. She spreads blatant lies on land acquisition among the people,” he said.
The rant left everybody astounded, including the advocate herself. “This is probably the first time a chief minister has taken a civilian’s name in the assembly,” Rachna told HT. “Nevertheless, there is no truth in Rao’s statement that the central act is riddled with loopholes. It is a completely fool-proof and well-researched law that provides relief and rehabilitation to people affected by land acquisition for various infrastructure projects.”
Rachna, who completed her PhD in international human rights from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, worked as a lecturer at NALSAR University in Hyderabad before becoming an advocate at the Hyderabad high court. She took up the farmers’ cause after she visited the affected villages and found how the authorities were acquiring land through the promise of “higher compensation”.
Under her guidance, many farmers knocked on high court’s door to challenge the validity of GO 123. “Fighting this battle was akin to mixing social activism with the legal profession. I have been telling the farmers that land acquisition under a GO will not stand in the court of law,” Rachna said.
Last week, the Telangana assembly enacted a new law acquisition act – amending the central law – despite protests by opposition parties. “It is nothing but a replica of GO 123. But then, we can challenge it only after it gets presidential assent and becomes a law,” the advocate said.
So far, Rachna has not been targeted directly by the powers-that-be. “I may come under pressure in the coming days, but I am not scared. I will continue my fight for this just cause.”
Interestingly, Rachna had represented IAS officer Smitha Sabharwal, additional secretary to the chief minister, in her lawsuit against Outlook magazine. “I did argue her case in the criminal defamation suit filed against the magazine. But the case is now being handled by the advocate general, and I am out of it,” she said.