The AP capital debate: Were committees appointed just to defend a political decision?

The Jagan government has not attempted any debate on the proposed model, giving credence to the argument that it is all part of a strategy to bury Naidu’s Amaravati dream.
The AP capital debate: Were committees appointed just to defend a political decision?
The AP capital debate: Were committees appointed just to defend a political decision?
Written by:

There are questions galore on the report submitted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recommending three capitals for the state of Andhra Pradesh. The state government claims that the GN Rao Committee and BCG are two independent groups. But it can’t be accidental that both have given strikingly similar recommendations.

While stating that a distributive capital model is essential for a state like AP, BCG recommends concentration of most of the capital functions in Visakhapatnam with a few left in Amaravati. Even while stating that such a distributive capital model is essential for decentralised development, BCG wants the capital to be concentrated in the already developed city of Visakhapatnam.

BCG analysed the experiences of green field capitals attempted elsewhere in the world and made a strong bid against adopting such a model in AP. But, has the consulting group studied the experiences of having capital cities in more than one place, as in the case of South Africa? Quoting the experiences of South Africa and West Germany for making a case for three capitals in AP is surprising as the historical and cultural contexts are dissimilar.

Any comparison with South Africa or West Germany to justify the distributive capital model suggested for AP is oblivious to the historical contexts of those nations. There seems to be a manufactured confusion over distributing certain offices or court benches and the very act of locating various state organs at different places. In fact, the challenges of logistics and administrative displacement are not adequately answered in these reports, at least if one goes by what has been disclosed to the media. In fact, it is a grave injustice that the full reports of these committees are still not placed in the public domain, which could have facilitated an informed debate.

Meanwhile the debate on the capital issue has derailed into an ugly political slugfest between the ruling YSRCP and the opposition TDP, with other parties joining forces against the government but waging a battle separately. There seems to be no attempt even by the ruling dispensation to initiate a more enlightened debate on the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed distributive capital model. Thus, the feeling that all this is part of a calculated strategy to obliterate Chandrababu Naidu’s footprint is greatly strengthened. Absence of sensible debate also gives credence to the argument that Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has taken a decision to bury Naidu’s Amaravati dream and shift the capital to Visakhapatnam, and that these committees are only an exercise to defend the political decision.

Quite interestingly, BCG rates different cities on a host of a parameters to decide their relative merit for qualifying to be capital. It grades the Vijayawada-Guntur belt as a medium to high category in terms of infrastructure required for a capital city. Visakhapatnam is ranked high in this regard. There seems to be not much difference between the newly proposed city and the earlier region. Still, the recommendation is to shift the capital to Visakhapatnam.

Kurnool is recommended to be the judicial capital not based on any other factor except to respect historical commitments. The Sribagh Agreement of 1937 is cited in this regard. But, on the contrary, the historical and cultural heritage of the Amaravati region is not taken into cognisance.

Both committees justify the idea of a distributive capital on the hypothesis that administrative decentralisation is attempted for developmental decentralisation. But at the same time, Visakhapatnam is chosen to be the executive capital on the grounds that it is already a developed city. Both these arguments run contrary to each other.

Amaravati is discouraged precisely because of fiscal unavailability and environmental unsustainability. But Visakhapatnam is also prone to cyclones of varying intensity. The environmental impact assessment of various cities is not impartially analysed. Even cities like Mumbai or Chennai also faced devastating floods.

In fact, the protagonists of Amaravati argue that this is not just a green field capital. It is a combination of both green and brown field capitals as the capital region stretches across already fairly developed cities like Vijayawada and Guntur along with the 29 villages where land pooling was undertaken.

Meanwhile, the capital debate is muddied by several other allegations and counter-allegations. Most prominent among them is alleged insider trading by the previous regime. But the government has still not initiated a full-fledged investigation into these allegations. Now, there are counter-allegations about the present ruling party resorting to insider trading in Visakhapatnam. All these allegations and counter-allegations need to be established by proper course of investigation and judicial action. Till then they remain in the realm of politics. Assuming that allegations of insider trading are true, still they cannot be grounds for shifting the capital. The people cannot be punished for the acts of omission or commission of the ruling regime.

Unfortunately, even caste has been drawn into the capital debate. The protests for and against Amaravati and the idea of three capitals is further vitiating the debate. Both BCG and GN Rao Committees were serious exercises, notwithstanding different opinions on their findings. But the belligerent political polarisation has completely overtaken the exercise of serious study of relative merits and demerits of different proposals. The ruling party is also a co-sponsor of the derailed debate.

Meanwhile, the possibility of the Centre intervening or courts dissuading the Chief Minister from undertaking the exercise of shifting the capital away from Amaravati is being debated. But such a possibility seems to be a pipedream. The judiciary cannot intervene in the domain of the executive. The choice of a city as a capital is essentially a decision taken by the state government. The courts can at best adjudicate on compensating those who suffered losses due to the decision of the new government.

Similarly, the central government also may not intervene, though the BJP that runs it has taken a position against the state government’s move.

As BJP national spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao candidly explained, the central government was not behind the decision of the then government to locate the capital at Amaravati and this government’s decision to shift the capital cannot be challenged by the central government. Though his comments did not receive a positive response even from his own party colleagues, it is certainly a bitter truth to swallow for those who steadfastly oppose the shifting of the capital from Amaravati.

Though the new proposal is labelled as a model of distributive capital, it ultimately turns out to be a capital shifting from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam with certain facilities retained at Amaravati and some more located at Kurnool.

Thus, the exercise done by the BCG and the GN Rao committees are essentially intellectual justifications for a political decision. Committees are appointed to serve the political project of the ruling dispensation. Rarely does a committee give a report that is unpalatable to the government that appointed it. BCG or GN Rao are not an exception to this trend in Indian democratic polity.

Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana.

Views expressed are the author's own.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute