A week after the High Court’s order to develop Amaravati as the state’s only capital, TNM did a reality check on the ground about development works in the region demarcated for building Andhra’s capital city.

One of the rusting foundations at Amaravati
news Ground Report Thursday, March 17, 2022 - 17:45

This is the first of TNM’s two-part ground report from Amaravati.

Until a few years ago, driving through the Karakatta road, located at what is now known as Amaravati, one would see plush green fields of paddy, banana, chilli, turmeric and other crops on either side. The large tracts of fertile land, located along the Krishna river, never disappointed the farmers of this region. Today, thousands of acres of land that once provided bountiful produce to the farmers lie unused and overgrown with wild grass, bushes and shrubs.

In 2014, more than 33,000 acres of land were pooled from the farmers in this region for the construction of Amaravati – Andhra Pradesh’s capital city. Foundations were laid for several projects, and renowned architects and builders were appointed to script history and be part of Chandrababu Naidu’s dream capital.

Implementing the March 3 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court to develop Amaravati as the state’s only capital may prove to be a herculean task for the Jagan Mohan Reddy government. With most parts of land in the region that were readied to construct skyscrapers and massive structures lying abandoned and home to wild shrubs and weeds, the task at hand may prove tougher than expected. The state’s financial liabilities and borrowed debts are only likely to add salt to the state’s already bleeding exchequer.

Abandoned buildings in Amaravati

The Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) was launched by the TDP government in December 2014. Many felt the scheme, which the government portrayed as pro-farmer, was launched to circumvent existing laws that require the government to secure consent from 70% of the families affected by a project. In land pooling, the government signed individual agreements with farmers. In early 2015, the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Act was notified to set the terms of the compensation to be paid to the farmers in exchange for the land.

According to the CRDA Act, for every acre or 4,840 square yards of agricultural land on the banks of the Krishna river, a residential plot of about 1,000 square yards and a commercial plot of 450 square yards would be given to the plot owner. The compensation for dry agricultural land was a commercial plot of 250 square yards. The agreement was land in exchange for land, and no financial transaction took place between the government and the farmers. However, an annual crop compensation of Rs 50,000 per acre of wet agricultural land and Rs 30,000 per acre of dry agricultural land was promised to the farmers. This compensation was due for a 10% increase annually and set to continue for 10 years from the date of the agreement. Landless farmers who worked on the agricultural lands in this region and were displaced because of the project were promised a compensation of Rs 2,500 per month for 10 years.

In two villages the farmers were not convinced with the government’s compensation and refused to part with their land. However, that did not deter the Naidu government, which decided to use the land acquisition law to take over their land. Some farmers managed to get a stay from the court. However, since the majority of the land required was acquired, the government could go ahead with its plan of building the capital.

Abandoned buildings, neglected farmers

Fast forward to March 2022 and all one can see are a handful of abandoned buildings. The ministers’ bungalows, judges’ bungalows, All India service officers’ quarters and residences for other gazetted officers are among the many under-construction structures that now lie deserted. Hundreds of massive pipes that were brought in to be used for the integrated underground infrastructure project lie unused on one side of the road in Amaravati.

Massive pipes lying unused by the road side

One of the boards that still stands at the foundation site reads, ‘Construction of towers 1&2 – AP State Secretariat & Heads of department office buildings, Amaravati Government Complex’. A representative image on the board shows five skyscrapers located adjacent to each other in the heart of Amaravati. Today, besides the board, one can see only a large inundated site that was dug up for laying the foundation. Several rusting rods laid as part of the foundation for the massive structures can be seen jutting out from the ground.

The board at the abandoned construction site

A little away from the building that is now being used as the Andhra Pradesh High Court was where the permanent High Court was to come up. All that remains is a board announcing that the foundation stone was laid by Justice Ranjan Gogoi on February 3, 2019, when he was the Chief Justice of India

The foundation stone at the site where the Andhra Pradesh High Court was to be constructed

Some distance away are the unfinished bungalows and quarters, where watchmen have been appointed to ensure thieves don’t make away with the construction material. K Ravindra, a watchman at the judges’ quarters, was a farmer in the region until his land was given away for the capital development. “My family parted with 3 acres in return for a 2,000 sq yard commercial plot,” Ravindra tells TNM. When asked if he prefers this job over farming, he says, “Though it was hard work, farming was more lucrative. We would cultivate a variety of crops. Now, I’m paid Rs 10,000 per month. I have to just sit here and keep an eye out for thieves.”

While Ravindra chose to work as a watchman, Marri Kishore from Thulluru village, another farmer who parted with his land, is struggling to make ends meet. “Moneylenders were skeptical about lending us money because of the uncertainties. Altogether, I have around Rs 5 lakh in loans. I’m paying almost Rs 10,000 per month as interest. I have three daughters who are all studying. I’m unable to pay their college fees. When I was cultivating crops, I earned enough for all my needs. I had nearly 3.5 acres of land. I was earning nearly Rs 30,000 as profit per acre, per crop. We were able to cultivate 2-3 crops per year. As crop compensation, I got Rs 48,000 per acre this year from the government,” Kishore says.

Ravindra, the farmer-turned-watchman, looking at the long stretch of half-complete deserted bungalows 

Though the government had allotted him the residential and commercial plot in exchange for his land, Kishore says he isn’t in a position to sell it at the moment due to low land prices as a result of the lack of development. “It will not fetch me a good price if I sell now. I’m saving the land for getting my daughters married and their future,” Kishore says.

The 10-year crop compensation was intended as a grace period for farmers who gave up their land to learn a skill or to take up an alternate profession. Madasu Samuel, another farmer from the Amaravati region, decided to rear cattle for a living after he gave up his land. He was sitting under the shade of a tree with music blaring on his basic model mobile phone as his buffaloes grazed on a plot of land. “I bought two buffaloes, I survive with the milk I sell and the annual compensation that I receive,” reveals Samuel.

When Samuel parted with his property which he bought with money from his ancestral wealth, his brothers filed a case claiming a share in the plot that he received from the government. “My brothers thought it was a golden opportunity to make easy money. Thinking that the developed plots would become very valuable, they decided to move legally. Today, there has hardly been any increase in the value while the case is still being heard in the court,” shares Samuel.

Madasu Samuel, seated under the shade of a tree, as his buffaloes graze in the nearby field

Amaravati development works are underway: CRDA

While the farmers and many others in Amaravati say that no visible development has taken place ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in 2019, the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) maintains that development works never stopped despite the change in government.

A highly placed official told TNM on the condition of anonymity, “The CRDA has always been committed to the development of this region. The additional court halls are being developed in the judicial complex at a cost of Rs 33.5 crore. Rs 150 crore has been sanctioned for making Karakatta a two-lane road. We’re also in the process of developing the plots acquired under LPS. The smart city works will also be taken up to the tune of Rs 500 crore. The process of registering lands to 69 Union and state government institutions and 61 private institutions is also underway.”

The CRDA also says that the state government has given a guarantee to borrow Rs 3,000 crore, which has already been approved by the state cabinet. The CRDA has also recently taken a loan of Rs 194 crore, of which Rs 94 crore has already been received from banks for the completion of the All India Service officers’ quarters and MLA/MLC quarters.

However, the CRDA says that the Naidu government’s master plan to develop Amaravati is not entirely feasible. “It is impossible to stick to the master plan made by the Chandrababu Naidu government. It was made without considering how much the state could really afford. Master plans are dynamic and can be changed based on available resources and present needs of the government,” the source explains.

While the March 3 Andhra Pradesh High Court order has come as a ray of hope for the farmers who have been protesting for more than 800 days, highly placed sources in the government say that the government is likely to appeal in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order.

Meanwhile, the farmers who consider the High Court order a step closer to their dream of Amaravati as the only capital of the state have their fingers crossed.

This is the first of TNM’s two-part ground report from Amaravati.

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