– Oliver D’Souza
“Farmers in more than two dozen villages who pooled at least 33,000 acres (13,355 hectares) of land for the new capital in Amaravati have protested for weeks against the decision to abandon the project, which authorities had said would be a financial boon for landowners”
In January this year, the Andhra Pradesh (AP) state assembly passed the Decentralization and Equal Development of All Regions Bill to pave the way for three cities to be the executive, judicial and legislative capitals, rather than build a new all encompassing capital city.
Under the new plan Amaravati would be the legislative capital, Kurnool, the judicial capital and Vishakapatnam the administrative capital.
In the first place, the need for creating a new capital arose after the erstwhile AP State was bifurcated into AP and Telangana, with the erstwhile AP capital, Hyderabad, going to Telangana.
The move by the YSRC government has arguments that favor it, as well as those that do not see much good in it.
Some planners says that having three capitals rather than one could be a model for more equal development and help release pressure from the country’s overcrowded cities.
Having three capitals is an anomaly in India, where state capitals have long been centres of power, drawing the bulk of investment and infrastructure building, and becoming magnets for thousands of migrants from the villages every day seeking jobs.
But with increasingly crowded cities and lopsided economic growth in many states, decentralization is desperately needed, said Bhanu Joshi, a former member of a committee that studied the feasibility of the multi-capital plan.
“Indian states focus on putting all their capital into just one big city instead of giving a boost to decentralized development, where more cities are adequately empowered and sustained to allow for balanced development,” he said.
“Andhra Pradesh is endowed with different types of natural resources – a policy of balanced regional development is the only way forward,” Joshi, a political scientist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Andhra Pradesh was split in two in 2014 after a decades-long movement for a separate state, with Telangana hived off the north-western part in June 2014.
Andhra Pradesh’s capital, Hyderabad, which became the capital of Telangana, will also remain capital of Andhra Pradesh for a period of up to 10 years so the state can establish its own capital.
Andhra Pradesh’s former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with transforming Hyderabad into a thriving technology hub, decided to build a new capital, Amaravati, touted as a “smart city” with environment-friendly features.
But the plan was beset by protests of farmers unwilling to give up land, and warnings of the ecological impact and potential for flooding from building close to the river.
A new government led by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who took office last May, commissioned studies into the feasibility of a multi-capital plan, then scrapped the Amaravati project based on their recommendations.
“We do not want to develop one area utilizing all our available financial resources while other areas suffer due to lack of funds,” he told reporters.
India has five mega-cities with populations of more than 10 million each, and is forecast to have two more by 2030, according to the United Nations.
Each of these cities – including Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata – suffers from lack of adequate public transport and affordable housing, along with increasing congestion and pollution.
While big cities create wealth and generate employment, they also drive climate change impacts, and worsen inequality and exclusion, said the U.N.
While some distance is yet to be covered and hurdles to be crossed, the three-capital formula has also evoked stiff opposition. Part of the opposition appears political, as this new plan will truncate the vision laid out by the former CM.
Farmers of Amravati, who had contributed land for the state capital, are up in arms. A total of 33,000 acres of farm land had been given by the farmers and part of the deal was that they would reap the benefits of urbanization and global investment. That expectation was terminated in good measure by the fresh announcement of the new government. Strong protests by the Telugu Desam Party along with adversely impacted farmers are already in evidence.
The decision has to be examined, firstly, in the light of the newly stated objectives of decentralization and inclusive development, about which the planners are talking about.
It also needs to be scrutinized in the backdrop of the previous decision of the state to have a single, new capital.
The multiple capital idea is an outcome of history, efforts at decentralization, administrative convenience and placation of different cantankerous groups of people.
In India, several examples exist of states having high courts in a city different from the capital. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala, for example, have such an arrangement. Their capitals are at Lucknow, Bhopal, Gandhinagar and Thiruvanthapuram; whereas the High Courts of these states are located at Prayagraj, Jabalpur, Ahmedabad and Kochi. While Maharashtra’s High Court is in Mumbai, its benches operate in Nagpur and Aurangabad. Some states also move their legislative assemblies to a different city for part of the year. These include Maharashtra (Mumbai and Nagpur), Himachal Pradesh (Shimla and Dharmshala) and Karnataka (Bengaluru and Belgaum). In the given background, AP takes the logic further by establishing three state capitals and thereby distributing the fruits of development.
Governmental activities are the fulcrum around which several developmental activities spring up and boost local economy. In that sense, different regions gain from a decentralized arrangement rather than all activities getting concentrated in a single city. Three economies would get built in three different regions and bring in greater productivity and employment for locals. Fortunately, Amravati is included among the three state capitals; hence part of the earlier deal will still go through. From the urbanization angle, it is better to work against a primate city with high population density and move in favor of mid-sized cities with decent economies. The state government has also advanced the argument of a financial crunch and AP government’s inability to spare so much money for putting up a new capital. It does appear that the new arrangement will come at a fraction of the earlier cost as it would buy into existing infrastructure of Kurnool and Vishakhapatnam.
An additional argument against spreading governmental jobs at three different places is that governmental arms, especially the bureaucracy and ministers are required to do frequent consultations. Separation and distance of the two will hamper coordination during assembly sessions. This theory of the tyranny of distance does not apply in this age of technology and consummate digital communication. In view of the above, the idea of three capitals is not such a bad idea.
Decentralization and inclusive development, however, will not get significantly served by this mere single step of three state capitals. What would really deliver those goals are functional and financial decentralization and empowerment down to the third tier of governance that make local bodies’ self-governing institutions. States have been chary of walking that path. AP has to be watched closely to see whether the state government truly intends the achievement of its stated goals.
Irrespective of all other aspects, one key fact that has not been highlighted in debates is that the decision has not been made on a clean slate. We are here dealing with a situation where a state government decided five years ago to build a green field capital. Subsequent to the decision, external global parties as well as national organizations and individuals were invited and contracted to work on the vision. After a sufficiently prolonged period of half a decade, nullifying the earlier decision has set a chain of unfortunate consequences. Investors who had put in money and farmers who had contributed land had done so in the hope that certain gains will flow out of their initiatives. Today, they are highly aggrieved. They believe, and not without reason, that they have a lot to lose.
An additional key fallout has been the necessity of disengaging with appointed experts and organizations that had mobilized men and women and spent time, energy and money on their assigned tasks. Many of those assignments would have to be foreclosed. This is patently unfair to those men, women and institutions. The World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and a Singapore consortium have already wound up their funding commitment. It is bound to strengthen the ill reputation that we seem to have acquired of the very likely risks of course reversal in this country on account of the compulsions of internal politics. The huge dangers that emerge from engaging with Indian authorities will fortify negativity in businesses and professionals and this bodes ill for future projects.
In all of this, there is the widespread perception that the idea for three capital cities is essentially the effort of the CM Jagan Reddy to deny the former CM Chandrababu Naidu the credit and achievement of creating what he called a “world class capital” After assuming power, Jagan has been preoccupied with undoing many of Naidu’s major decisions and the three capital formula is seen as the continuation of the vindictiveness of Jagan.
Chandrababu Naidu and transformed Hyderabad into a global Information Technology centre during his tenure as Chief Minister from 1995 to 2004. After coming back to power in 2014, Naidu embarked on building a capital in Amaravati. Promising landowners high valued plots and compensation, 33,000 acres of farm land was acquired from 29 villages in the area.
However, due to fund shortages and lip service from the Union government, Naidu could not accomplish his dream capital project. All he could build was a temporary Government Complex, a temporary High Court building, and a permanent Legislative building, along with accommodation for legislators, judges, and officers.
But simply having three capital cities will not guarantee decentralization or more equal development, said Srinivas Chokkakula, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.
“The idea of decentralized growth needs to be institutionalized and there need to be deliberate efforts to ensure investments,” he said.
Authorities will face infrastructure challenges and environmental risks including climate change in each of the three cities, and will need to build efficient linkages between them, he said.
“Calling a city a capital may bring some attention and some investments, but the challenge will be sustaining it for a more balanced, equitable growth and development,” he said.
The state is setting up regional economic development boards that will ensure the benefits of economic growth are accessible to everyone, authorities have said.
But farmers in more than two dozen villages who pooled at least 33,000 acres (13,355 hectares) of land for the new capital in Amaravati have protested for weeks against the decision to abandon the project, which authorities had said would be a financial boon for landowners.
The decision was also taken without a consensus of the people.
“A wider public consultation process would have helped make the decision more acceptable, said E.A.S. Sarma, a land rights activist and former bureaucrat who had filed a petition against the Amaravati project.
“It will only create new problems for the residents.”
What’s now required is proper planning, or moving the heads of departments and the secretariat to Visakhapatnam will “impose a severe stress on the resources of the city” including water, housing and land, he said.
Various analysts also say that the idea has political and caste tinges to it viz a viz the Reddy and the Khamma castes in Andhra. Naidu’s major vote base and financial clout comes from the Khamma community. The Khamma community is concentrated around the Amravati area and have ended up a lot of money that they had invested in Amravati.
The are those who also say that under Jagan Reddy, the Reddy caste has been reinstalled put back as the ruling caste.
There is also discontent among the people of the Rayalseema area who earlier had to travel 800 kms to Hyderabad while pursuing administrative and legal issues. Amaravati was suitable to them. With administration, judiciary and the legislature in three different places, the Rayalseema people see the move as not solving any of their problems but only adding to it.
Clearly, whatever the merits of the three capital city idea, there are complex undercurrents at play as well. The objective is stated to be the decentralization of development, but the cross-currents indicate that at best this is a gamble, replete with severe political costs for YSRC.
Notorious as the nation is for implementation of anything, there is the possibility that it will also lead to colossal corruption and wastage of citizens money.
– With Inputs from Rina Chandran/Trust.org and Dr R Jha, OIF