Hyderabad: Amid the second wave of the pandemic, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao Saturday took over the charge of the health department following allegations of land grabbing against Health Minister Eatala Rajender.
Rajender has been removed from his post.
The move follows a late evening drama that unfolded Friday when a group of nine farmers sent a complaint letter to the chief minister alleging that their “assigned lands”, about 100 acre, in Medak district’s Achampet village in Masaipet mandal, were forcibly taken away by the health minister and his close aides to build a hatchery, to be owned by Rajender’s family.
The said land was encroached upon to “establish a poultry industry”, a written complaint by the farmers said. ThePrint has accessed a copy of the complaint.
Assigned lands are plots given to the landless poor for agricultural and cultivation purposes by the government. The Telangana Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfers) Act, 1977, prohibits transfer of such lands once allotted.
Following the complaint and soon after local media channels, including the one run by KCR’s family, telecast the news, the chief minister ordered an inquiry.
A statement from the chief minister’s office, late Friday, said Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar has been instructed to obtain a comprehensive report from the district collector, and also asked the Vigilance and Enforcement Department to inquire into the allegations made by the farmers.
An hour later, Rajender held a press conference, denying all the allegations and called it an “attempt” by the media to malign his image.
Rajender claimed that the chief minister was well aware of the land issue. He added that he had sought legal ownership of only 20-25 acres of the assigned land, which were required for the expansion of his hatchery.
The minister also said that an official from the CM’s office had said that lands could be transferred provided there was farmers’ consent.
Welcoming the inquiry ordered by the chief minister, Rajender said a committee with a sitting judge should also be formed to probe into the allegations. If proven guilty, Rajender said he would take up a monastic life.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that a minister from KCR’s cabinet faced allegations of land grabbing.
Labour Minister Ch Malla Reddy was also booked by the police last year following a similar complaint. However, there was no immediate reaction from the chief minister nor was any committee constituted for an inquiry.
There have been speculations that things weren’t smooth between the CM and the health minister for more than a year, but the two never addressed the issue publicly. Rajender was KCR’s close confidant during the separate state movement in the early 2000s.
Ties reportedly soured between the two over reports of KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao’s elevation as the chief minister.
Rajender had been at the forefront of handling the state’s Covid situation.
In 2020, the Telangana government was criticised for its weak testing numbers — considered one of the lowest in the country. What followed next was criticism against the state’s alleged attempt to underreport Covid cases and deaths.
A year later, the state government still faces allegations of underreporting cases and deaths.
The Telangana High Court recently lashed out at the government for its poor Covid management, delay in taking decisions on lockdown and hiding data.
The political parties in the state, primarily the ruling TRS and the BJP, were also under scanner for holding huge public rallies and road shows for the 30 April municipal elections.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)