Panchayat reigns supreme
IN THE Vaddi villages of Kolleru, life is almost totally monitered and controlled by a Kula panchayat. The panchayat is headed by a pedda vaddi (sarpanch), who is assisted by a maximum of seven peddalu or peddas (members), depending upon the population.
The kula panchayat enjoys total power and can dictate terms in any activity of the village. The common village fund raised by the kula panchayat through "unofficial" auction of doddis (lake areas within village boundaries) is under the control of the pedda vaddi and his cohorts. The kula panchayat also determines the role of each member in the community in all activities, including marriages, elections and developmental work.
Violation of the pedda vaddi's orders invites the wrath of the kula panchayat and can lead to punishment, ranging from imposition of a tappu (fine in kind or cash) to excommunication. There are several instances of such punishments being handed down with the law enforcement authorities and civil courts unable intervene.
Income derived from doddis and fish tanks are distributed uniformly to every member of the community, irrespective of their membership in the cooperative societies. The kula panchayat also handles natural disasters like floods and cyclones. On the order of the pedda vaddi, all able-bodied persons of the community attend to the work of raising a flood bank to protect the village or dadikuttu (a method of communal fishing using bamboo curtains) or any other work. The work is done free of cost by all community members. In this way, many roads, tank bunds or flood banks are built.
The Vaddis are also renowned for keeping their word. The creditworthiness of a promise of a pedda vaddi can be as high as Rs 50 lakh. However, with increasing exposure to the outside world, especially among the peddas, this reputation is disappearing fast. In fact, many peddas have been accused of amassing wealth by misappropriating village common funds. The accounts of the village funds are highly confidential and no outsider is allowed during the "budget session".
The Kolleru Lake Development Committee, commenting on this form of traditional self-rule in its proposed master plan for the lake development, says, "A closer observation of the system shows is actually detrimental to the community as a whole as it curtails economic, social and political freedom, denying development of individual fisherfolk."