There is a debate on the continuation of the Amaravati capital project in Andhra Pradesh political circles. It is rather disappointing that AP has not come to a final agreement on the capital even after five years.
There was no such confusion in the several new States established in India after independence. The foundation stone for Gandhinagar, Gujarat’s capital city, was laid in 1965 and the capital was fully functional by 1971. All other States, which needed a new capital, settled the issue quietly. Chhattisgarh, separated in 2000, too built a full-fledged modern integrated capital city by 2015.
The bifurcation of AP was somewhat different from other State formations. It was a demerger of an earlier merged State. It had its own peculiar factors, mainly Andhra peoples’ victimhood emotions over Hyderabad. AP had acquired a first-class capital in Hyderabad in 1956 and was using it and its revenue readily with their political majority. But with the demerger, they lost Hyderabad and inherited a big revenue deficit.
In view of these, special provisions were made for the residual AP in the Reorganisation Act. These included a committee to recommend a place for the capital, financial assistance from the Centre to help build the capital quickly and a revenue deficit grant to balance the state Budget.
Chandrababu Naidu, who won the election in 2014, publicised that he would build a ‘world-class’ capital for AP. The high-level central committee on capital gave a report after a six-month study making some recommendations. But the government never considered it and chose the riverfront Amaravati site for the capital. The NDA government, of which the TDP was an ally, supported him against the recommendation of the committee because it was a committee appointed by the UPA.
That was the beginning of the bad luck for the capital city. The Central government simply forgot about its own committee and gave a long rope for Chandrababu to indulge in his pipe dream of constructing a capital city, which would be one of the top five cities in the world. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his overexuberance promised to help build a better capital than Delhi, believing that Chandrababu will get all the funds needed from foreign direct investments.
Bolstered by Centre’s bonhomie, the TDP chief went around the world inviting FDI for about three years. But nothing happened. He thought that the companies, which invested in Hyderabad, would make a beeline to Amaravati, but it took some time for him to understand that the companies came to cities in India because of their urban infrastructure and the available Human Resources.
He then desperately tried to get the missing FDI from the Centre and demanded about a lakh crore rupees for the dream capital, as the relations between the NDA and the TDP soured. The Centre washed off its hands with Rs 2,500 crore. Meanwhile, environmental credentials of the riverfront capital were questioned.
The AP government acquired 33,000 acres of the most fertile riverfront land in a bizarre land-pooling scheme for the capital. In another one lakh acres of Krishna delta and other prime agriculture land as part of 8,000 sqkm capital area region, very productive agriculture was disturbed. It was also destroying a freshwater aquifer, replenishable yearly to provide drinking water for a million people. The area is flood-prone because of a small river during the flood season. Many such environmental and technical issues came to the surface.
The issue went to the NGT and the tribunal asked the government to constitute supervising and implementing committees to implement its conditions in the construction of the capital. It is considered next to impossible to construct the capital with all those conditions and committees. All these together have brought the world-capital project to a grinding halt. Except for a temporary Secretariat, a high court building and some quarters for government officials, no other government complex could be constructed. This year’s copious rains and flood flows in Krishna also exposed the vulnerability of the site to floods.
Moreover, the financial situation of the State was also grim. In 2014, the State inherited a deficit Budget of Rs 7,300 crore. The Centre provided a revenue deficit grant averaging about Rs 4,500 crore per annum from 2015-16 to 2019 to balance the Budget. But the deficit went on increasing – over Rs 16,000 crore in 2017-18 as per the audited accounts. In such a scenario, embarking on constructing a ‘world-class’ capital with over Rs 1 lakh crore budget is a foolhardy attempt. The needless fixation on it has led to a waste of precious resources and five years of the State and left the government in the lurch.
Now whether to continue the capital there or construct elsewhere is the moot political point. As the realities on the ground indicate, it is impracticable to build a national class, leave alone a world-class capital there. If continued with it, it can be a drag on the state. So prudence lies in shifting the site to a more conducive place like the uplands in the same vicinity or to Donakonda, where plenty of government land is available without causing much burden to the treasury, or near to Visakhapatnam, which can give a seafront capital with some good infrastructure in place to make it a bigger city.
If AP wants to have a good functional capital keeping aside its pent-up division emotions and vainglorious politics, there cannot be a better example than Naya Raipur of Chhattisgarh.
(The author is a freelance journalist)