With inputs from G S Radhakrishna
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Within six months of assuming power, Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has undone many things started by his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu. The most contentious being Amaravati, Naidu’s dream capital. The last nail in the Amaravati coffin was hammered by the report of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on January 3rd. Unmindful of the protests across the state, the Jagan government moved quickly to get the three-capital proposal endorsed by the state assembly, where he enjoys a brute majority.
The assembly, on January 20th, passed the bill proposing creation of Amravati, Visakhapatnam and Kurnool as the legislative, executive and judicial capitals of the state. The Capital Region Development Authority Repeal Bill 2020 was also passed without any amendment. The crucial AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of all Regions Bill 2020, was stuck in the Legislative Council where out of the 58 members, the TDP enjoys a majority of 28, against Jagan’s nine. However, in a move designed to ride over this roadblock, the AP Cabinet, chaired by Jagan Reddy has now passed a resolution to abolish the Legislative Council. The resolution will now be sent to the Centre seeking introduction of a bill to dissolve the Upper House.
Meanwhile, the state cabinet also decided to increase the ex-gratia being paid to farmers of the (Amaravati) capital region — from Rs 2500 per month to Rs 5000 per month. “No injustice will be done for Amaravati,” promised Jagan Mohan Reddy in the assembly. Even as he went about undoing everything Naidu had planned for Amaravati.
The Amaravati project was jinxed from the beginning. The BCG report, titled ‘Strategy for Balanced and Inclusive Growth in Andhra Pradesh,’ was only the latest that said Amaravati was totally unsuited to be made the state’s capital. The report also endorsed the new government’s decision of locating the state’s capital in three different regions—-North coastal Andhra, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
The report recommended development of a ‘brownfield capital’ rather than a ‘greenfield capital’ which involves huge costs. It recommended the Secretariat be diversified with sub-secretariats at Amaravati, Kurnool and Vizag, High Court benches at the three locations and that the Assembly should convene at each location by rotation.
Also, BCG recommended balanced development in the state’s 13 districts spread across six regions, Uttarandhra, Dakshinandhra, Godavari and Krishna deltas and East and West Rayalaseema, stating that the government should address regional aspirations and minimise costs of capital. It suggested development plans be based on the natural resources and growth potential of each region.
But the BCG report drew plenty of criticism too. “The problem with the BCG report is that it does not form part of a long-term (30 years) vision for developing AP,” said E A S Sharma, former Power and Finance secretary. “The mistake committed by the earlier government was that they took decisions unilaterally, without consulting other political parties and the public. The same mistake should not be repeated by the present government. Based on BCG and G N Rao reports, a draft plan of action as a part of a long term vision should be prepared and placed before the people for wider discussion and debate”.
Jaganmohan Reddy had first mooted the idea of having three capitals on December 17th, based on the recommendations of two high-powered committees, the K C Sivaramakrishna and G N Rao committees, both of which recommended having more than one capital for decentralised growth.
Launched with much hype and fanfare by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 23rd, 2015 at Uddandarayuni Palem village, the Amaravati project started facing problems once Naidu fell out with the BJP and suffered a huge defeat in the 2019 assembly elections. “After big brother withdrew support Amaravati has become a mystery and mirage,” said state BJP chief Kanna Lakshminarayana.
But the ruling Jaganmohan Reddy government waited till the World Bank and Asian Development Bank cancelled their loan offer for the new city to launch a major campaign against Amaravati both inside and outside the assembly, holding Chandrababu responsible for all lapses. The builder from Singapore and the designer and executor, an arm of the Singapore government, too have silently faded away.
In fact, had the Telugu Desam government paid heed to the K C Sivaramakrishnan committee report, headed by former Urban Development Secretary K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, things would have been different. The committee had even then recommended one major administrative city and several other cities focused on investment, technology and industry. The committee was totally against the development of a mega capital in this location since this was fertile, agricultural land.
“Any attempt to convert agricultural land into non-agricultural use will seriously displace this workforce, rendering [it] unemployed; loss of valuable agricultural land and disappearance of small holdings [will] benefit only… the real estate operators.” Further, the committee had made a specific mention of the high water table in the region and related vulnerabilities.
Right from the beginning, environmentalists were intensely critical of the project and the site chosen, on the banks of the Krishna River. Till June 2015, most of the 30 villages at the site bore a lush green look. Today, the region appears like a refugee camp with tin sheds and other temporary structures. What is somewhat complete is an interim secretariat, a state assembly complex at Velagapudi, an interim high court at Nelapadu, partly completed residential quarters for the MLAs, ministers, government employees and judges and an under-construction access road and connecting road network.
The capital development area of the proposed capital covered 16.7 sq km which would have housed the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, High Court, Secretariat and Raj Bhavan and three lakh homes, which was to have been completed by 2018-19. The business hub was expected to generate about 7 lakh jobs.
The earlier government had enacted the AP Capital Region Development Act 2014 and formed the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) to develop the new city. The new capital’s location was identified between Vijayawada and Guntur alongside the River Krishna, comprising 24 revenue villages and part of Tadepalli municipality of Guntur district, covering a total area of 53,748 acres. The master plan envisaged a Central Business District (CBD), nodes and corridors for a transit-oriented development approach with an integrated network of 12 km of Metro rail, 15 km of Bus Rapid Transit systems, 7 km of downtown roads, 26km of arterial and sub-arterial roads and 53km of connecting roads.
Farmers left in the lurch
The Amaravati project actually began falling apart when the state government took an inordinately long time — three years — to firm up on designs for the capital. The designers and the builders had thrown in the towel in early 2019, as the Chandrababu Naidu Government had failed to get financial support from the Centre and was facing a farmer-driven agitation over land alienation and grant of alternate land. Added to this was the ire of environmental activists, who highlighted concerns over the project’s potential impact on forest, river, riverbed, floodplains and more.
Out of nearly 54,000 acres of land identified for the city, 42,000 acres was cultivated land and of that, 40,000 acres was irrigated land. Thus, the problem was not as much for farmers who are landholders as for farm-based labour, the leaseholders. The entire area is highly prone to floods and in 2009, out of the 42,000 acres more than 35,000 acres were inundated, environmentalists argued.
Now, Municipal Development Minister, B Satyanarayana has said that the government will develop Amaravati as an educational hub with the aim of assuaging the protesting farmers whose land value has suddenly shrunk. This is in line with the BCG report which said Amravati’s potential for economic development was very low and that it would take more than 40 years for development even if a lot of money was spent, adding that Amaravati was not suitable for construction of a capital city as the five kilometre range from the Krishna river front was prone to flooding and inundation. “Instead, it can be developed as an education hub, food and fisheries hub and hi-tech organic agriculture hub. Focussed effort is needed on these clusters to ensure employment creation and sustained development.”
The question, now, is over the fate of the farmers, whose land was part of the pooled land of 33,000 acres. There are 25,000 odd farmers from 29 villages, who will no longer get any of the promised benefits now that Amaravati will only be the legislative capital. The TDP government had promised farmers benefits like rent of up to Rs. 50,000 per acre for ten years, jobs for family members, reimbursement of children’s education fees, residential and commercial plots, all major infrastructure facilities like roads, power-lines and drains and free health cards. The farmers claim that none of the promises have been kept.
While Amaravati’s farmers feel cheated after being shown dreams of their land being turned into another Singapore — 125 of them were even taken to Singapore for a first-hand look — the Jagan government’s proposals too are already running into some stiff opposition. “Decentralisation is a healthy way of going about the new capital, but Visakhapatnam is still very far for a person from Anantapur. It would be a better to have mini-secretariats to help people from across the 13 districts,” said V S Krishna from Human Rights Forum (HRF).
The decision to have the high court in Kurnool is also not being received well. “If there are benches in Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada\Guntur, clients will not come to Kurnool,” said ex-MP Mysura Reddy. “There are no more civil litigations in Rayalaseema with out-of-court settlements more common. We do not want a High Court in Kurnool. We are demanding that one of the cities of greater Rayalaseema be made the capital. We sacrificed Kurnool being the capital back then for the sake of Telugu-speaking people and now we demand that the capital should be from Greater Rayalaseema.”
“More industries are needed,” said C Ramachandraiah, MLA and leading Rayalaseema activist. “We at Rayalaseema need more water, more projects and more funds for this area.” In fact, many in Rayalaseema are gearing up for a fight for a separate state.
But in the end, while the decentralisation debate rages, few are saying anything on what will happen to the farmers of Amaravati who sold their land for a dream that now lies shattered.