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Analysis: Does Andhra Pradesh need 3 Capitals?

Andhra Pradesh has been unique in India in its bad luck with having a stable capital city. It has lost its capital three times, starting with Madras. Briefly, it was Kurnool which served as the state’s capital from 1953 to 1956, before Hyderabad replaced it. 
 
But the most devastating of all has been the loss of Hyderabad, the battle for which was acrimonious, hard-fought, and prolonged. The plea to at least turn it into a Union Territory was disallowed. The best that was offered was a ‘joint capital’ for 10 years — giving time to build a new capital.
 
Many industrialists, educationists and people from different walks of life believe they have immensely contributed to the growth of Hyderabad as an international city. In fact, the entire Telugu film industry that was based out of Chennai, moved to Hyderabad during the 1980s.
 
Why Vizag didn't become Capital-worthy
 
It was this shift in our matinee icons that effected a shift in the people's imagination about Hyderabad being our cultural capital and not Madras. Madras itself changed to Chennai by the time this shift was underway. The dozens of trains that linked Vijayawada to Chennai were now matched by dozens of trains newly linking Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam to Hyderabad from 1990s onwards.
 
With the IT revolution in Hyderabad, hospitals, hotels, pharma, education, and realty enterprises — largely owned by Seemandhra entrepreneurs — started to bloom in the city. Such services-led to development and rising standards of infrastructure in Hyderabad, and sparked confidence in national and international companies, that they can invest here. It gave the city an international outlook, making it a growth engine for undivided Andhra Pradesh. 
 
This showed a ‘ripple effect’ on the development of the entire state. After bifurcation, there was a positive trend among the people across its 13 districts having reconciled to this new reality, now eager to build the new capital.
 
So, by the end of 2014, the objective for the newly-formed government was clear — ‘a new city needs to be built which can become a growth engine for the development of the newly-formed state’. 
 
However, coastal Andhra already has a city like Visakhapatnam with a GDP of USD 45 billion. For comparison, Hyderabad has a GDP of USD 75 billion. So, why not choose Visakhapatnam as the capital of Andhra Pradesh?
 
Problems With Vizag as Capital
 
Undoubtedly, Visakhapatnam is a beautiful city boasting of infrastructure, with immense potential for growth. However, a fundamental issue with having a port as capital is that coastal cities tend to have linear expansion unlike inland cities like Hyderabad or Bengaluru that spread outwards concentrically, growing in all directions. 
 
Under this ‘linear system’, cities consume over 75 percent of natural resources, produce over 50 percent of global waste, and emit between 60-80 percent of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, a circular economy provides the opportunity to rethink how we make and use the things we need, and allows us to explore new ways of ensuring long-term prosperity. 
 
Other problems with Visakhapatnam include land acquisition at affordable rates, water availability and increasing salinity, and its remote location from the Rayalaseema people. Under these circumstances, the then government resolved to build a green field city which could overcome all the problems being faced by the existing cities.
 
There was widespread consensus from major political parties, positive feedback from the Centre-appointed Sivaramakrishna Committee, and approval from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) regarding environmental impact.
 
But, why Amaravati?
 
Historically, the Krishna delta is one of the few places in the country where a river flows north instead of south or east. The Satavahanas considered this auspicious and chose the site to build their capital at Dharanikota, two kilometres away from Amaravati town. Situated on the banks of the Krishna river, Amaravati is located between two well developed cities: 32 kilometres away from Guntur and 39 kilometres away from Vijayawada. 
 
Given that the new capital requires large tracts of land for development, the AP government took a major decision to procure 33,000 acres for the capital through ‘land pooling’ instead of land acquisition. The capital region comprising 29 villages between Vijayawada and Guntur was chosen because it is centrally located and easily accessible from north and south, equidistant to coastal districts and the Rayalaseema region.
 
The region is one of the few places in the state where such a large parcel of land is available for constructing a capital city. Since it is close to Vijayawada and Guntur, connectivity is not a problem. Plenty of water is available from the river Krishna for the capital city and its residents, and the government plans to revive decades-old waterways and canals linking the capital with many towns and villages in the Krishna delta.
 
The Emotional Value of Land
 
Land ownership is an emotional issue in India for historical reasons. Pre-independence, most of the privately held lands were owned by feudal landlords, known as zamindars
 
The tillers lived in extreme poverty, living and dying in debt, often working as bonded labour. Though zamindari was abolished, land reforms were successful only in Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura, and Jammu & Kashmir. Thus, having to give up land is seen as a huge setback to Indians, especially the farming community.
 
This is compounded by the fact that the compensation for acquiring land is paid at ‘circle rates’. These have tended to be far lower, around 40–50 percent lower than market rates. With such compensation, farmers and landowners naturally feel cheated. This grievance had been addressed in the last five years, since 2013 or so, in most states through progressive land acquisition acts. 
 
A third factor is that land is usually acquired for public works. When such work is done, land prices in the area go up, often sharply. People whose holdings were acquired feel resentment about others making a fortune from what was once their land.
 
Why the ‘Three Capital’ Formula?
 
Keeping all these factors in mind the then government introduced a first of its kind ‘Land Pooling Scheme’. Under this scheme, landowners voluntarily signed ownership rights over to a single agency or government body. This agency develops the land by building roads and laying sewage lines and electricity connections. 
 
Once this is done, it returns a smaller portion of the land to the original owners. But since the plot now has more amenities, its price would have potentially risen to match the market value of the owners’ original landholding.
 
Farmers from 29 villages gave around 35,000 acres of land for the development of Amaravati. The land pooling exercise in Amaravati is the largest such exercise India has seen. However, it is not new. But the usual ratio of land acquired to land returned is generally 60:40, with the landowner getting back 40 percent of land. The ratio in Amaravati is closer to 70:30, with the landowner getting back only 30 percent of land.
 
But the scenario has changed after YSRCP came to power in 2019. The newly-formed government announced the three-capital or trifurcation formula alleging ‘ill deeds’ done by the TDP government in the Amaravati region.
 
The major allegations put forward by the YSRCP government are ‘insider trading’ and ‘favouring of one caste in the process of making the capital’. If at all this is true, there are enough laws to prove the ill deeds done by TDP leaders and put them behind bars. But jumping to conclusions without looking at other available options will prove dangerous as it may eventually kill the democratic process of decision-making in the state.
  
(A Mohan is an IIT Madras alumnus and political analyst. Naga Sravan Kilaru is a National Youth Awardee – 2018, Govt of India, and a political activist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own.)
 

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