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Reddy orders probe into farmer deaths

Hyderabad, July 12: Angered by Opposition remarks that farmer suicides have risen since he assumed office, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy today ordered a judicial probe into all such deaths in Andhra Pradesh since 1998.

The chief minister told the Assembly today that the probe will cover the 705 farmers who leader of Opposition . Chandrababu Naidu says have committed suicide since mid-May when Reddy’s Congress party won a landslide.

Reddy refuted the allegation and said the official count of suicides over the last two months was 150. His Congress government has focused on farmers’ issues since coming to power.

It has given farmers free electricity and waived their power dues amounting to Rs1,200 crore. An ex gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh has been awarded to the dead farmers’ kin.

Manmohan Singh visited drought-affected villages in Kurnool and Mahboobnagar in the first week of the month and announced an additional grant of Rs 50,000 from the Prime Minister’s relief fund.

Reddy’s announcement today was triggered by an Opposition allegation during a debate over the release of Krishna water from Karnataka’s Almatti dam. The latter said farmers have been on a suicide spree since the special package was announced.

Participating in the debate, the chief minister said his government was trying to obtain 20 TMC of Krishna water stored at Almatti. “It may be a Congress government in Karnataka but the farmers’ unions there are opposing such apportioning of water. We are trying to convince Karnataka Congress leaders about the gravity of situation in Andhra Pradesh,” he said.

But the debate turned ugly over the continuing suicides, with Naidu and Reddy trading charges over who was more to blame for the deaths. Eventually, the chief minister accepted the Telugu Desam Party’s challenge to order a judicial probe.

The third major probe the Reddy regime has ordered is a fallout of the chief minister’s rivalry with Naidu. Reddy had written to the National Human Rights Commission over the suicides when he was leader of Opposition in the last Assembly.

The first probe ordered by the Congress regime was into the misappropriation of Rs1,000 crore in the food-for-work programme by the outgoing regime. The Naidu government had disbursed around 54.23 lakh tonnes of rice worth Rs 5,423 crore in employment-generation work in drought-affected regions.

It was alleged that 23,000 projects begun under the programme were allocated to Desam contractors without following norms, resulting in misappropriation of Rs 1,000 crore. The Prime Minister had granted the Andhra government 12.87 lakh tonnes of rice for drought-relief projects during his recent visit to the state.

The Reddy government also ordered a probe on all land allotments made by the Naidu government. It focused on the 850 acres granted to IMG Bharata, headed by US-based Desam sympathiser Billy Rao, to develop sports and recreation infrastructure in Hyderabad.

The Neeru-Meeru project for groundwater conservation funded by Britain’s Department for International Development has also come under the scanner.

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