AP’s Three Capitals: Decentralisation Agenda or Another Real Estate Bonanza?

 

Purendra Prasad

 

With the defeat of TDP in 2019 elections, the current YSRCP government announced three capital cities – executive capital in Visakhapatnam, legislative capital in Amaravati, and judicial capital in Kurnool along the lines of the South African model.  Instead of decentralised and distributive development, previous government opted for highly centralised world class city Amaravati, which was economically unviable, ecologically unsustainable and had lower  employment opportunities for the labouring population.  The current government justified the move to decentralise AP’s capital in order to provide development of all three regions particularly backward north Andhra and Rayalaseema.  YSRCP government also highlighted land scams, insider trading and corruption in Amaravati project and accordingly, initiated `reverse tendering’, review and/ cancellation of contracts pertaining to high stake projects like those related to capital city, and Polavaram Irrigation Project.

Three capitals  has cast a shadow on the `iconic’ capital city Amaravati  especially regarding astronomical land prices and the real estate market.  Small and  marginal farmers who parted their land in the land pooling scheme for Amaravati capital city are the worst affected as there is no clear road map from the current government how their share of plots will be developed and their issues addressed.  Similarly, a significant number of tenants, landless, Dalits and women workers who lost their livelihoods in the capital region of Amaravati have no one to approach.  Those farmers who made profits and invested in rental housing and commercial properties from the 29 villages got seriously affected as possibilities for rental activities got drastically curtailed.

What does three capitals mean in everyday conversations?  It primarily implied shifting of capital from Amravati to Visakhapatnam.  Various groups of farmers and political parties have been opposing this shift under Joint Action Committee for the last 18 months.  The current government’s response to these agitators is no different from the previous government.  YSRCP government also clamped section 144 CrPC, imposed prohibitory orders under section 30 of the police act, resorted to brutal police violence by beating up protestors including women and detained several of them.  Instead of initiating a democratic dialogue with the agitators, farmers’ groups and political parties in explaining the rationale of three capitals and find an amicable solution to the complex issue, the government has been handling resistance with police force.

Visakhapatnam city has become the hub for land transfers – sales, encroachments, acquisitions, and mortgage, in the current regime.  One of the distinctive features of the city is that most of the land is under the control of state government.  With the declaration of executive capital, government attempted land pooling which was vehemently resisted.  Subsequently, a lot of government land and urban commons are either encroached upon or shifted into the hands of private players.  For instance, land between Visakhapatnam and Bheemili stretching about 25 kms has already gone into the hands of real estate and political leaders.  As part of  `Build AP’ scheme, government has been identifying public lands to build necessary complexes, providing infrastructure and selling these to private individuals and companies.  Bulk of this land identified for sale belonged to Visakhapatnam city.  The prime land of 13.59 acres at Harbour Park on RK Puram Beach road which was to be leased to the UAE based infrastructure giant Lulu group by the earlier TDP government was cancelled by YSRCP government in the year 2019.  Now, the same piece of land is put up for outright sale in the year 2021 despite the fact that it falls under coastal regulation zone (CRZ II), has restrictions under CRZ Act and cannot be privatised.    AP government is also planning to sell or mortgage 100 acres of government land where several offices and institutions such as District collector office, two Tahsildar offices, regional eye hospital, R& B office, Revenue employees quarters, government ITI, Polytechnic, Government dairy farm, disabled training centre etc. are housed at present.  This is nothing but monetisation of assets and public lands. Visakhapatnam is on the coast which is vulnerable to cyclones, floods, tsunami and erosion.  The way AP government is aggressively occupying the hills, planning constructions against ecological norms and facilitating land transfers may contribute towards Visakhapatnam becoming an unsustainable capital city.  And also, it  should not end up becoming Amaravati real estate vs Visakhapatnam real estate projects.

Some major decisions have been taken about Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP), Visakhapatnam port and Gangavaram port recently.  Central government decided to sell VSP, and its landed property of 22,372 acres along with selling of railway properties, especially land.  In addition, all the berths in Visakhapatnam port and iron ore plant have been sold to corporates such as Adanis and Vedanta.  AP Government received income from its 21% share in Gangavaram port in lieu of 1800 acres allotted to it along with rent for the remaining 1052 acres.  Now, State government has decided to sell all its share in Gangavaram port to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ).  Attempts are on to sell 51% government stakes in the Kakinada Special Economic Zones to Aurabindo group,  facilitating Adanis to buy 100 percent stakes in Krishnapatnam port located in Nellore district on the east coast of India, allowing Divi group to set up pharmaceutical unit in Thondangi mandal in East Godavari district threatening the marine eco system.  YSRCP which vehemently opposed land acquisition of 2700 acres to Bhogapuram airport, now made an agreement with GMR Air Ports Ltd to develop a greenfield international airport in 2200 acres, while state government will develop the rest of the 500 acres of land.  As a result, the small farmers got dispossessed under both the regimes.  When state government is aggressively monetising assets, selling away its land, facilitating its shares and resources to corporates, how can it put pressure or resist central government from privatising and selling public sector units like VSP and the ports?

Instead of focusing on employment generating activities, industries, irrigation projects and development within each region, the current government is also focusing on privatising public assets, land deals to benefit the corporates, taking over assigned lands from Dalits in the name of housing for the poor,  implementing urban, electricity and property tax reforms all reflecting  the current government’s `development’ policies.    On the other hand, intense efforts are made to evict the displaced farmers and agricultural workers especially Dalits and Adivasis  under Polavaram project without providing compensation under LARRA Act 2013. Thus it raises a few pertinent questions: Are three capitals meant to decentralise governance structures and move towards development of regions or is decentralisation merely a rhetoric? Is Andhra Pradesh losing a historic opportunity to reimagine and rebuild people centric capital or capitals in the current regime as well?