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Andhra’s Three-Capital idea: An Analysis of Pros & Cons

In Jan 2020, the Andhra Pradesh (AP) government, based on the recommendations of a High Power Committee (HPC), approved a proposal to create three capitals for the state. 
 
The Committee had recommended that Visakhapatnam be made the executive capital and Kurnool in the Rayalaseema region the judicial capital. The Committee also suggested that Amaravati could house the governor’s office as well as the state assembly and become the legislative capital.The physical locations of the three state capitals are spread over the elongated shape of the state. Kurnool is on the western side; Amravati is centrally located and Visakhapatnam is on the eastern corner. 
 
According to the state government, the purported objective of the Bill is decentralisation and inclusive development of all regions in the state. The Bill also provided for dividing the state into various zones and establishing zonal planning and development boards. The AP Legislative Assembly passed this Bill on 20 January 2020.
 
This fresh formulation ran counter to the vision of the former AP Chief Minister (CM) Chandrababu Naidu. He had conceived the construction of a green field, futuristic and world class capital city Amaravati for AP. This was to be modelled on the lines of Singapore and its master plan was to be assisted by two Singapore government-appointed consultants. 
 
The city was to cover a geographical area of 217 sq. km. and was to be developed at a total approximate cost of US$ eight billion. It was designed to be one of the greenest cities with navigation canals and water bodies.
 
While some distance is yet to be covered and hurdles to be crossed, the three-capital formula has 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 also 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 urbanisation 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 objective of this article is to examine the pros and cons of the decision to set up three state capitals. This decision has to be examined, firstly, in the light of the newly stated objectives of decentralisation and inclusive development. It also needs to be scrutinised in the backdrop of the previous decision of the state to have a single, new capital.
 
Beginning with an analysis of the multiple capital idea, this is not a completely nascent one. South Africa has a different capital for its judicial, legislative, and executive branches at the federal level (Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein). Benin, a West African country, has two capital cities – Benin and Porto Novo. So do Bolivia (with capitals in Sucre and La Paz), Chile (Valparaiso and Santiago) and Georgia (Tbilisi and Kutaisi). 
 
The World Atlas lists 15 countries that have distributed federal functions over more than one capital city. These arrangements are an outcome of history, efforts at decentralisation, administrative convenience and placation of different cantankerous groups of people.
 
In our own country, 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 Thiruvantapuram; 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 decentralised 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, Amaravati is included among the three state capitals; hence part of the earlier deal will still go through. From the urbanisation angle, it is better to work against a primate city with high population density and move in favour 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 Visakhapatnam.
 
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.
 
Decentralisation 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 decentralisation 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 organisations 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 organisations that had mobilised 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.
 

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