AP’s Capital Dilemma Continues

 

Dr C. Ramachandraiah

 

The issue of Three Capitals (3Cs) in Andhra Pradesh (AP) has come to the fore again recently with hints from some leaders of the ruling YSR Congress Party (YCP) that some offices may be shifted to Visakhapatnam from Amaravati.

It may be recalled that the YCP government headed by the Chief Minister, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, passed two Bills, the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions (APDIDAR) Act 2020, and the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Repeal Act, 2020 in January 2020. APCRDA will be replaced by the Amaravati Metropolitan Region Development Authority (AMRDA). In the Legislative Council, in which the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has majority, the Bills were referred to a select committee. They were passed in the Legislative Assembly for the second time in June 2020. The AP Governor gave his assent to the relevant Bills in July 2020.

The APDIDAR Act envisages three seats of governance in the state to be called as Capitals – AMRDA area as the Legislative Capital, Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Area as the Executive Capital and Kurnool Urban Development Area as the Judicial Capital.

This has formally signalled the end of the road for the much-touted and controversial greenfield capital city of Amaravati started by the former chief minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu in 2014.

The YCP government is known to have taken this decision based on GN Rao Committee’s recommendations to decentralize the administration. The government started arguing that having three capitals will give a fillip to the development of the north coastal districts and the backward Rayalaseema region. The government has proposed to establish zonal planning and development boards

The government also took a view that in view of the current financial condition the grandiose capital plan of building a grand greenfield capital was unaffordable.

The farmers who gave lands for new capital city under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) have been vehemently opposing the trifurcation of the capital. Under the aegis of a Joint Action Committee (JAC) they have conducted several activities like Dharnas, processions and legal challenges. They also challenged these Acts in the High Court of AP. Their agitation has been going on for more than 550 days.

Other than announcing extension payment of annuity for an additional five years at fixed amount per annum equivalent to the annuity of the 10th year (as per the LPS rules) the state government did not make any announcement so far as to how it is going to do justice to the farmers especially development of their plots. And, what is it going to do with the lands if the Executive Capital is shifted from the present location.

With the Legislative Council referring the Bills to a select committee (though later the Assembly passed them second time later) the state government could not proceed with its plan to create three capital cities. The select committee was given three months to submit its report. Looks like the committee was not even constituted all this while let alone get into the Bills. With the recent elections to the Council, YCP is known to have acquired majority in it. It may be recalled that, angered by the Council’s referring of the Bills to a select committee, the AP Assembly passed resolution for abolition of the Legislative Council on 27 January 2020. This resolution, however, is yet to be cleared by the Parliament to finally abolish the council.

It was clear from the very beginning of the change of government in 2019 that the future of the greenfield city was in jeopardy. Soon after YCP took over the reigns of power, construction activities came to a standstill in the capital area. Thousands of migrant workers who were stationed in the area left. A number of buildings and roads that were in different stages of construction have been left abandoned.

Some quarters for government staff were known to have been completed by 80 percent with only the interiors left. While the big construction companies have soon shifted labour and equipment away to their other locations, good deal of the material has been left abandoned. Amaravati, in large parts, feels like a half-finished, abandoned space.

Till now, the government has not bothered to make its stand clear on what it intends to do with the buildings and lands. And how is it going to do justice to the farmers?

With the land prices crashing down, the hopes of many farmers who were banking on rising land values so that their plots would fetch high rates too were dashed. The worst sufferers are the small farmers who gave 1-2 acres under LPS and were depending on the annuity amount. The government’s argument that the Legislative Capital will remain at Amaravati did not cut much ice with the farmers. The hopes of farmers about getting high prices to their plots in the new capital city may not materialise since Amaravati may not be the only capital city. House rents also crashed in several villages in the capital area. Many villagers raised extra floors on their houses to rent out which was on high demand. These rents have crashed too. The dilemma continues..