“The Constitution, the Legislature, and the people’s mandate are being abused for the sake of political vendetta,” the senior TDP leader and son of Chandrababu Naidu, writes.

Collage of Nara Lokesh and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy
Voices Opinion Thursday, August 13, 2020 - 19:10

A few days ago, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Biswabhusan Harichandan, gave his approval to two bills — AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions and AP Capital Region Development Authority Repeal Bills. The same Bills were earlier sent to a select committee by the Legislative Council of which I am a member. The Andhra Pradesh High Court has also ordered a status quo on the shifting of offices away from Amaravati. The Governor’s decision has created an uproar in the state, breathing life back into the ‘Save Amaravati’ movement.

Intellectuals, farmers and NGOs are decrying the haste with which due process was not followed while passing the Bills. Since a new Andhra Pradesh was formed after bifurcation, it was imperative to consult the Centre on the legitimacy of the Bills in the background of the AP Reorganization Act, 2014. This has led to the current bills standing on weak grounds both constitutionally and legally. In the political context also, these Bills go against the promises made by the incumbent YSRCP government. On several earlier occasions before the 2019 elections, Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy had assured his full support to the development of Amaravati as the capital. In a much-publicised debate earlier, he even contended that the capital must have a minimum of 30,000 acres.

The farmers of the region, most of them small and marginal landowners, rose to the occasion and gave more than 34,000 acres. During the election campaign, many leaders of the YSRCP assured the people of their continued support for Amaravati. They argued that their leader Jagan Mohan Reddy built his home in Tadikonda, part of the capital region, which was indeed an assuring signal from the party. People have now found out that they have been bluffed.

Failed models in other states and countries

The logistical nightmare of having three capitals is best illustrated by South Africa. It had three capitals due to its complex history of apartheid and colonialism. The mistake is haunting them with rising costs of having to manage multiple state functions — executive, judiciary and legislature — across a widespread area and population.

Jacob Zuma in his 2016 State of the Nation address as President of South Africa lamented the huge costs involved in maintaining three capital cities — Cape Town for Parliament, Pretoria for administration and Bloemfontein for the judiciary. Pretoria is 460 km from Bloemfontein and 1,460 km from Cape Town. So it is ignorant and extremely short-sighted for the Chief Minister to have taken the example of this failed model to be implemented in our state.

We have other models from India’s medieval and modern history. Emperor Muhammad Tughlaq suffered the huge costs of shifting his capital from centrally located Delhi to Daulatabad in Maharashtra. He ended up shifting back to Delhi. Capitals like Bengaluru and Chennai, being situated in one corner of the state, have led to inconveniencing people located in northern Karnataka and southern Tamil Nadu. In 2014, even the Centre-appointed Sivaramakrishnan Committee determined Vijayawada-Guntur Urban region to be the most suitable in terms of connectivity, water availability, and existing development levels.

Administration is full of hassles

Relocating the High Court to Kurnool and the executive capital to Visakhapatnam presents innumerable difficulties for the people. People belonging to Uttarandhra region, from places like Ichapuram or Annavaram, have to travel anywhere between 600 to 900 km to fight for justice in the High Court. Similarly, citizens of Rayalaseema region, from places like Hindupur or Tirupati, have to travel between 600 to 900 km to get necessary permissions for their businesses, or to obtain help from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, or to complete any work that depends on bureaucracy. Rather than decentralising development, the government is actually depriving a wider population the benefits of economic mobility and social integration.

The state government itself is a major litigant in many of the cases that come before the High Court. This requires the regular attendance of heads of administrative departments and other such state bodies. If all these are being planned to be shifted to Visakhapatnam, their heads will spend half the week shuttling between Kurnool and Visakhapatnam. This only ends up bringing an administrative logjam. These logistical nightmares end up affecting governance and development.

This had already been pointed out by prominent media outlets, policy analysts, and intellectuals but the government is refusing to listen. It is an open secret that this shifting is purely a political move, which will impede development and welfare of people in the long run.

Vizag and Amaravati as growth engines

By announcing the trifurcation of the capital, the government is effectively shifting the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam. Legislatures don’t function for more than two months every year. Thanks to Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Visakhapatnam is already a developed city. It is the growth engine for north Andhra and eastern India; it is the 10th richest city in India and fourth in south India in terms of GDP and per capita income. Under the Telugu Desam government, numerous investments by prominent business groups such as Adani and LuLu were initiated in Visakhapatnam, only to be thwarted by the inefficiency of Jagan Mohan Reddy.

The trifurcation will hurt Visakhapatnam the most, bringing unnecessary chaos and administrative logjams to a fast-growing city.

The vision behind Amaravati

“Amaravati is one of the few places in the country where a river flows north instead of south or east. This is considered auspicious and well over 2,000 years ago, the Satavahanas chose the site to build their capital at Dharanikota, two kilometres away from Amaravati town. It’s located close to two well developed cities: it is 32 km away from Guntur and 39 km away from Vijayawada,” wrote The Indian Express.

Andhra Pradesh needs another growth engine, a city centrally located, developed from scratch in sync with the aspirations of the people, a mega city which will serve as an investment and IT destination like Bengaluru or Hyderabad. Being able to build such a city will send out indications to domestic and foreign companies that the environment and resources in the state are conducive for setting up new industries and services.

Amaravati is located in the middle of the state, connected well by air, road and rail. The river-front capital would also be well-equipped to manage any water crisis that might arise in the future.

Without considering the merits, Amaravati is being attacked purely because it is seen as the legacy of former Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu. But we must remember that this is not just about one leader or one party or one region. Amaravati has been built by people, by companies, and by investments coming from across Andhra Pradesh, India and the world.

YSRCP leaders who are currently MLAs deceived their voters by misleading them on Amaravati. Why this U-TURN? What does the CM and his coterie stand to gain from shifting capitals to Visakhapatnam? The Constitution, the Legislature, and the people’s mandate are being abused for the sake of political vendetta.

Since Jagan Mohan Reddy has the intelligence department at his service, he must ask for ground reports about what people think. He must swallow his giant ego, and for once, do what is best for the people. Because, the future of Andhra Pradesh is at stake here!

Nara Lokesh is a Member of Legislative Council (MLC) in Andhra Pradesh and the General Secretary of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Views expressed are the author's own.

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