Itâs a double whammy for farmers in Amaravati, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. The real estate bubble was already bust with land rates crashing last year. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc with farmers in the capital.
Nearly 28,000 farmers gave 33,000 acres of agricultural land to the government voluntarily for the construction of the capital earlier, during the TDP government. Despite this, a good number of farmers, including sharecroppers, are cultivating, raising floriculture, horticulture and vegetable crops in several villages in the capital region. A cluster of villages are famous for cultivating floriculture involving jasmine, rose and lily for south India with flowers finding their way into Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad markets from the Amaravati region. Besides, the fertile lands are rich in horticulture crops such as banana, papaya, lemon and other vegetable crops.
The capital villages began to reel under the lockdown in the last week of March, following the coronavirus scare. All entry and exit points connecting Vijayawada and Guntur, Kolkata-Chennai National Highway-16 and Pune-Machilipatnam National Highway-65 were shut as part of the lockdown. As a result, transport to all the major markets have come to a standstill, making it difficult for farmers to market the produce.
The Prakasam Barrage on the Krishna river, connecting Amaravati and Vijayawada, has been sealed. The farmers have to make a round trip to Vijayawada via Kanaka Durgamma Varadhi and sell their produce only during the curfew relaxation period ending 11 am. Farmers complain that by the time the produce is harvested and brought to Vijayawada, the relaxation period is over, landing the farmers in trouble.
The virus that caused the lockdown flattened the hopes of Shaik Peeru Saheb from Penumaka, one of the villages in the capital region. He raised chakkarakeli bananas in his two acres of leased land in the neighbouring Undavalli village. The crop was promising and about to be harvested. But Peeru found no way to bring the fruit to the market as there have been no signs of relaxing the lockdown.
âWhen I harvested the crop, retail vendors quoted prices 50 percent lower. Usually, a bunch of the chakkarakeli fruit is priced at Rs 200. Now, there is hardly anyone to pay more than Rs 100,â laments Peeru who raised a loan of Rs 1 lakh from lenders for banana cultivation.
The irrigation canals passing through Vijayawada city bear visible signs of the distress of floriculture farmers. Unable to find buyers, the farmers are dumping flowers in the canals. Amaravatiâs jasmine is in great demand in Chennai, Hyderabad and Vijayawada markets. But the wholesale flower market in Vijayawada is closed. Rituals in temples and marriage functions require large quantities of flowers. Temples have been closed and marriages restricted during the lockdown to check the spread of the virus.
Writing on the wall
Farmers gave their lands, hoping to see a world-class ultra-modern capital city in their midst and strike rich. As expected, land rates shot up to Rs 2 to 3 crore per acre from a few lakhs, after the TDP governmentâs decision to locate the capital in the flood plains of the Krishna river in the Amaravati region. But the change of government in the elections, held in 2019, reversed the fortunes of capital farmers when Jagan Mohan Reddyâs YSRCP came to power.
The capital project has been subjected to review under the new political dispensation as was the case with a slew of the other flagship schemes of the previous TDP government. Soon, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy came out with the policy of distributive capitals, shifting the executive capital away from Amaravati, resulting in a drastic fall in land rates. The YSRCP governmentâs decision took the sheen out of the capital. The World Bank backed out from lending 3,800 crore for the capital and Singapore withdrew from the start-up area project, feeling the heat of the political power change in the state.
The Happy Nest project, comprising 12 towers, each with 18 floors of residential flats, the brainchild of the Capital Region Development Authority during the TDP government, presented tell-tale signs of downswing in the real estate market in Amaravati. The CRDA claimed that 300 2 BHK and 3 BHK flats were booked in less than a minute through its official website. Now, those who booked flats are reportedly keen to pull out of the project.
Caught in conflict
The protest launched by Amaravati farmers opposing the shifting of capital recently crossed 100 days. In the process, the protesting farmers are unwittingly caught in the TDP-YSRCP crossfire. Boyapati Sudha Rani, a woman farmer from Krishnayapalem, told TNM that the pain delivered to them by the government is more severe than that of the coronavirus.
The capital farmers entered an agreement with the CRDA, while transferring their lands, delegating âirrevocable general power of attorneyâ to the government. Even as the YSRCP government is averse to using the entire 33,000 acres of land for capital purposes due to its distributive capital project, the farmers no longer enjoy ownership rights over their lands in view of the agreement. âWe cannot sell our lands. What do we do with them?â asks Sudha Rani.
Her family gave four acres of land for the capital. A couple of months ago, she spent Rs 1.5 lakh to prepare the land and restore power supply for the cultivation of donda or ivy gourd. Like Sudha Rani, many of the farmers are revisiting cultivation in their farm lands in light of the capital shifting.