Explainer: Why farmers and activists have opposed the Amaravati project

The decision to drop the $300 million loan for the Amaravati project was celebrated by those who strongly opposed the capital region project ever since it was announced.
Explainer: Why farmers and activists have opposed the Amaravati project
Explainer: Why farmers and activists have opposed the Amaravati project

The World Bank dropped $300 million in funding for the Amaravati Sustainable Infrastructure and Institutional Development Project on Thursday, and according to the World Bank, it is because the Indian government asked them to drop the project. The reason for this is that the Centre possibly didn’t want a foreign agency to probe alleged discrepancies on Indian soil. 

The decision to drop the $300 million loan was celebrated by farmers and environmental activists who strongly opposed the capital region project ever since it was announced by former Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. However, the contentions surrounding the project have always remained. 

City planned on fertile soil

Amaravati, designated to be Andhra Pradesh’s capital, is being built on a 217 sq. km of fertile agricultural land and is located within 30 km of two cities — Vijayawada and Guntur. Farmers in Amaravati usually grow three crops a year as the land is fertile and rich in nutrients. Farmers and activists claimed that the project would create food insecurity. 

They wrote to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel in May 2017 seeking their intervention and said that the World Bank’s decision to grant a loan conflicted with their SESA-ESMF (Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment and Environmental Social Management Framework).  However, the panel declined this, and said that the crops produced in the region were “predominantly not used for daily consumption by people.” 

“Transformation of agricultural land to urban land would therefore not significantly impact the production of food in the state,” the panel said.

However, farmers who cultivate in this region are tenant farmers from the marginalized communities of SC, ST and BCs who would be deprived off their livelihood. 

The Inspection panel had not concluded its probe.

Flood prone zone

M Seshagiri Rao, the president of the Capital Region Farmers Federation, who opposes the project, said, “Out of the 33,672 acres of land that has been pooled, 3212.37 acres is ecologically sensitive and flood-prone due to Krishna river.” 

Amaravati is being built on the banks of river Krishna, and the Kondaveeti Vagu stream flows through it. “The entire capital would be inundated if the water level rises,” he adds. The government at the time had even decided to acquire 5,544 acres of reserved forest land for the project. 

Alleging that the TDP-led government was going ahead with the project by ignoring environmental concerns, environmental activists approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT). In November 2017, the NGT dismissed their plea claiming that the prohibitory orders on the project would jeopardize the financial interest of the state. The activists approached the Supreme Court against the NGT orders, however, the apex court rejected their appeal.

Alleged discrepancies in land pooling 

The development of the region was done not by acquiring land but by pooling land —  where the government would take land and return a portion of the developed land to the farmer. 

“The TDP leaders bought around 17,000 acres of land from farmers and sold them at twice or thrice its rate when the capital was announced.” 

“It is a major scandal,” Seshagiri alleges. Activists allege that the farmers were coerced to give away their land. 

The new government, led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has formed a Sub-Committee which has been probing the irregularities in the land pooling. The report of the same is likely to be released in two weeks, following which the government will decide on how to proceed with the project.

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