People’s struggles on Urban and Energy related issues

The Monopolisation of Urban Resources: the case of the Hyderabad Golf Club

, by Intercultural Resources , JAIRATH Vasundhara

Building a Golf Course for “Public Purposes”

The newest golf course in Hyderabad, the capital of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, is set against the scenic backdrop of the historic Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi tombs. It was established as a joint venture between the Hyderabad Golf Association (HGA) and Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (APTDCL), with the latter claiming that the course was built for the benefit of the public. The membership fees, however, presently stand at 150,000 rupees for a three-year temporary membership (which is mostly aimed at wealthy non-resident Indians) or 750,000 rupees for associate membership.

This article tells the tale of how the Government of Andhra Pradesh wilfully misinterpreted the phrase ‘public purpose’ for the benefit of a private party: the HGA. From the start, the government acted in an arbitrary manner. In October 1998, a government order identified 52 acres of land for acquisition for a public purpose: namely, the “development as a tourist spot with Birds Sanctuary.” This land was within Naya Qila, a part of the Golconda Fort. A process of land acquisition was initiated the following year, and land was acquired using the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) of 1894, which was established by the British colonial government and is still much used. Further, “in view of the urgency of the case,” the state invoked a clause in the LAA that allows the government to ignore objections to the acquisition process. It may be noted here that the emergency clause was inserted by the British for cases like “sudden changes in...navigable river[s]”, “unforeseen emergenc[ies],” or important cases relating to “irrigation water supply, drainage, road communication or electricity.” How a bird sanctuary fits into this definition is a question best left to the imagination of the citizen.

Notifications were sent to farmers on June 6, 1999, telling them to hand over their land to the Revenue Development Officer (RDO) by June 17, 1999. However, while the government had initially stressed the urgent need for a bird sanctuary, a later meeting held between state officials and representatives of the farmers tells a different story. According to the proceedings of that meeting, “The MD, AP [Managing Director, Andhra Pradesh] Tourism on December 18, 1998 made requisition for acquisition for 52 acres of land in Qila Mohammad Nagar village...for development of Tourism spot and Birds Sanctuary. Subsequently Tourism Department decided to set up Golf Course. Land Acquisition proceedings were initiated and possession was handed over to AP Tourism department on June 17, 1999.” No further explanation is given as to how the purpose was changed.

It is difficult to overemphasize the arbitrariness and high-handedness of state officials in invoking the emergency clause for a bird sanctuary and then changing the purpose for which the land was in fact acquired. But even more galling is the arrogance of the state government in deeming the golf course a public purpose project, even when it has not been announced as such. The ’bird sanctuary’ label was used solely for the purpose of acquiring land under the LAA, a tacit admission that a golf course is hardly a public purpose project. But once the land was officially ‘acquired’, state officials decided simply to change the purpose of land use.

This case is relevant in the context of the current debate around the proposed Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, which was introduced in part to address criticisms of the colonial-era LAA. The proposed bill, however, gives the government a wider scope in interpreting the phrase “public purpose,” and the Golf Course shows how much the state has abused this interpretive power. The simple fact of the Golf Course being a joint venture between a government entity – the APTDCL – and a private party – the HGA – does not make it a public good or a public service. It is in fact the first of its kind: a governmental organization engaging in private business in its official capacity!

A Brief History of the Land

The 52 acres of land under question in the case of the golf course is agricultural land that was allotted to families around 250 years ago. In 1951, following police action and annexation of Hyderabad by the Indian state, the descendants of these families were given titles to their plots of land. These farmers are primarily from the Scheduled Castes (an administrative category for traditionally low, formerly “untouchable” castes) and Scheduled Tribes (an administrative category for indigenous groups), along with 3-4 Muslim households. Until the early 1990s, farmers cultivated two crops of rice using water that flowed in from the Jamalikunta, a historical water body. They grew rice even though the Jamalikunta had also become one of Hyderabad’s largest garbage dumping grounds, receiving the wastes of both Hyderabad and the nearby Secunderabad.

This all changed in 1992, when the government decided to clean up the dumping site. However, the means they used to clean it up was to convert it into a private golf course – the first phase of the course now in question – and to reduce the historical water body to a little more than a puddle. Consequently, the farmers were happy to no longer be living with the stench of the landfill. But the water supply for their double-crop paddy cultivation had been cut-off, and they have since shifted to cultivating grass that feeds cattle. The serious loss and impact on the livelihoods of farmers in the pursuit of beauty has gone completely unacknowledged by HGA as well as state authorities. Moreover, for these authorities, ‘beautification’ of the water body seems to have a rather odd connotation that involved filling up the water body with mud and grassing the resultant land. Alas, beauty was achieved, but the water body was lost.

Acquisition of the Farmers’ Land

In 2000, in the land acquisition process for the new phase of the golf course, awards were passed in 54 cases and compensation for the lands acquired was set at 80,000 rupees per acre. At this point, thumb impressions were taken from the farmers, most of whom are illiterate, and their land documents taken from them. The compensation was, therefore, not only offered a year late, but even its exact amount was decided a year after the land had been ‘acquired’. However, the abysmally low compensation for urban fertile land was not acceptable to the farmers, who have since retained possession of their lands and continue, to this date, to cultivate grass on it.

On December 18, 2001, 212 acres of land, including the above mentioned 52 acres, were handed over to the APTDCL by government orders for the purpose of setting up a golf course, and on February 6, 2002 a Deed of License was entered into between the APTDCL, as licensor, and HGA, as licensee. It is clear that the first 9-hole course (built over the garbage dump) did not require such an agreement with State authorities since it did not involve acquisition of private agricultural land or access to the heritage monument. The Deed of License has, therefore, been necessary in order for the HGA to get free and unencumbered access to these spaces. In order for that to be done, the government acquired land for an allegedly public purpose and simply changed the purpose once "acquired".


In 2004 and 2005, the local farmers’ organization, the Farmers’ Coordination Committee, appealed to various authorities including the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and the Chief Justice of India to intervene in the matter. They demanded that they either be paid market rate as compensation (which was far higher than the meagre 80,000 rupees per acre being offered), or the land be returned to them, with documents and all. Finally, in March 2006 a meeting was held between state officials, led by the District Collector Arvind Kumar, and the Farmers’ Coordination Committee. Farmers recall Arvind Kumar as a sympathetic official who was keen on resolving the matter to the satisfaction of the farmers. A decision was taken at this meeting to set up a Committee that would include state officials, people’s representatives and farmers’ representatives to identify alternate land of equivalent value that would be exchanged for the acquired land. This process was to be completed within a period of 6 months from the meeting.

Subsequently Arvind Kumar was transferred. In 2008, the new District Collector, Naveen Mittal called for a meeting with the farmers, stating alternate land had been identified. The land being offered was rocky hilly land 75 kilometres from the current location and whose government valuation was 50,000 rupees per acre. The offer was declined as the terms of exchange were unacceptable to the farmers. However, around ten farmers decided to accept a higher amount and stayed away from the resistance.

Most of the farmers who cultivate this land are small and marginal farmers who own 2 acres of land or less between large joint families. The same amount of land is now divided amongst larger families as generation pass. This increased pressure on land combined with the shift from paddy cultivation to grass cultivation has together made life precarious for the farmers. Fahim Khan of Qila Mohammad Nagar is the oldest of 3 brothers, two of whom are married with one child each. Their father having died while they were still young, they are uneducated and have worked on the land since they were children. Together the brothers cultivate grass and make approximately 4-500 rupees a day between the three of them. This money then has to support not only their mother and their families, but also the families of two sisters, one of whom is a widow. For some, it may be surprising to see these farmers continue to fight for land that gives such small returns, but their protest shows how grossly unfair the government offer is. This land has provided for several generations and forms their primary source of livelihood.

In 2008, the government and the HGA further undermined their credibility when they began ’beautifying’ the Golconda fort, in the process violating several laws relating to the protection of heritage monuments. This fort is of the most important and iconic monuments of Hyberabad, second only to the Charminar. APTDCL and HGA claim they are protecting the monument from encroachments and developing it as a tourist attraction. In reality, they are threatening the city’s heritage by damaging the historical monument and breaking several laws.

In June 2012, in an attempt to bulldoze their way ahead, State officials closed the main gates of Naya Qila after bringing in large machines to destroy the farmers’ crop. When farmers gathered at the gate to protest, demanding to see the orders for such an activity, the Revenue Development Officer retorted they were not obliged to present any such orders. An enraged but helpless Fahim Khan, whose only source of livelihood was the land that was about to be snatched from him, attempted self-immolation at the site, but was prevented from doing so by fellow companions and family members. It was only after that incident that the gates were reopened and farmers were again given access to their lands. However, in July 2012, the offensive restarted when large machines were brought onto farmers’ lands with no prior notification, to begin digging with police protection. The state government sees no reason to present any notification to the farmers as they claim the land belongs to the state.

The premise given for digging strains credulity. The Hyderabad wing of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has directed the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) to carry out this digging because of ‘water logging’ that they claim is taking place within the Fort walls, causing potential danger to historical monuments. In yet another perversion of logic, ‘water logging’ here is a reference to the Naya Qila talab (pond), an established historical water body!

A critical look at the Hyderabad Golf Club, and the large number of violations that have been committed in its establishment, reveals how the state and the HGA have bulldozed their way through any opposition to forcibly appropriate both public and private resources for the elites’ private consumption. Not only is the Golf Course an attempt to monopolise the resources of the city – its water and its heritage monuments – but it is also an attempt to grab the limited resources of poor farmers. And all so that the rich can play golf against the stunning backdrop of the Golconda Fort and the Qutb Shahi Tombs. The rhetoric of protection smacks of arrogance of the affluent, namely, the belief that in order to protect something, we must protect it from the poor. Only the rich can protect and only the poor can encroach, they tell us.

However, ancient water channels have remained intact and ‘protected’ for the last 250 years while the farmers engaged in agriculture. Today the monument is under siege by the golf course. Contours of the land are being changed with large-scale dumping of mud, construction works are taking place within and outside the Fort walls, prohibited digging activities are taking place, and ancient artefacts are being dug up by contractors instead of the ASI, gates and fences are being put up inside Naya Qila restricting public access to heritage structures, and all this for developing the heritage monument, they tell us. They would have us believe a golf course is the only way the Naya Qila can be protected. Such an argument absolves the designated departments of their duties to protect and preserve the monument and its surrounding water bodies, and instead hands over the duty to a private party – a private party that is neither interested in protecting the water body nor the heritage monument, but in playing golf at "international standards".