With Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government in Andhra Pradesh opting for three state capitals, it’s almost the end of the road for dream capital Amaravati, a world-class city envisaged by his predecessor N. Chandrababu Naidu.
By virtually dumping Amaravati, Jagan Reddy has not only dealt a blow to his bete noire by erasing his mark from the state capital but also trying to consolidate politically across regions through decentralisation.
Storming to power with a landslide majority in May, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) chief had made it clear from day one that people’s welfare and not Amaravati, a Rs 2 lakh crore project, are his priority.
Already reeling under financial crunch and a series of sops announced by the new government requiring a whopping Rs 40,000 crore, the state lacks the resources to execute the Amaravati project.
Alleging a big land scam in Amaravati, Jagan had claimed that Chandrababu Naidu and other leaders of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) resorted to insider trading as they were privy to the information where the new capital was going to be located and purchased prime lands at a throwaway price.
The YSRCP also gave a caste angle to the whole issue by saying that the capital city was planned to benefit the Kammas, a community from which Naidu and other top TDP leaders come from.
The new government put on hold all the works in Amaravati, citing irregularities committed by the previous government in awarding contracts.
The construction activity came to a grinding which created an atmosphere of uncertainty, leading to a big slump in the land prices. The World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) were first to pull out of the project to fund Amaravati’s development.
The biggest blow came last month when a consortium of Singapore companies closed Amaravati Capital City Startup Project, the agreement for which was signed during the TDP rule. The government said they mutually decided to cancel the project as the consortium had failed to respond to the concerns raised.
Unfazed by Naidu’s criticism that the government is killing a golden goose, the YSRCP leaders pointed out that during his five-year-rule only five per cent of the work was completed by spending Rs 4,900 crore. Some said he started capital construction in the flood-prone area.
A conflicting signal came late last month when Jagan ordered speeding up of the construction works, which were nearing completion.
At the same time, an experts panel constituted by the government undertook a visit to all 13 districts to elicit public opinion on state’s development and capital.
As indicated by Jagan in the Assembly last Monday, the six-member panel in its report submitted on Friday suggested that some capital functions be moved to Visakhapatnam and Kurnool to ensure balanced development of all regions.
With Secretariat and Chief Minister’s camp office proposed in Visakhapatnam, for all practical purposes the coastal city in backward north coastal Andhra will become the hub of governance. The port city, the most developed among all cities in the state, will also have a summer session of Assembly.
The High Court will come up in Kurnool in Rayalaseema region, from which both Jagan and Chandrababu Naidu hail.
Amaravati is proposed to house Assembly and Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the Governor. Though the committee suggested that ministers’ quarters will also come up in Amaravati, this looks unlikely when Secretariat, the seat of governance and Chief Minister’s office will be located in Visakhapatnam.
What is significant to note is that within Amaravati the panel suggested moving out capital from flood-prone Thullur to an upland area Mangalagiri near Nagarjuna University. This means the constructions done so far for the Secretariat, ministers’ quarters, officers’ quarters, high court will not be used for the purpose they were launched.
The worst affected in this whole exercise are farmers of Amaravati, who had given 33,000 acres of land for building the capital after the government’s assurance to return them developed property. Thus, it is no wonder that they are up in arms against Jagan government’s move.
The expert panel suggested that except the land required, the remaining may be returned to farmers.
Analysts say the three-capital idea is aimed at diverting from Amaravati. “If one capital so hyped met this fate, people are not fools to take three capital formula at face value,” said analyst Telkapalli Ravi.
“Rayalaseema and North Coastal Andhra need capital investment and not capital status for namesake,” he said.
With nine theme cities, and 27 townships, Amaravati on the banks of the Krishna river was planned in an area of 217 square km as a world-class city.
The Singapore government had made master plan for the capital region, capital city and seed area. It was designed not merely an administrative capital, but economic and job creating hub and tourism centre.
Amaravati had then attracted the attention of investors from countries like Australia, Japan, Germany, Singapore and Britain.