The Andhra Pradesh High Court recently directed the state government to develop Amaravati as the state capital, as proposed under the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act.

Farmers protesting in Thulluru
news Ground Report Friday, March 18, 2022 - 17:11

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

After more than two years, residents in the villages under the Amaravati capital region in Andhra Pradesh are seeing non-locals passing by in cars, looking to buy land. As a car stops to buy a bottle of water, “Plots kosamaa andee...? Ekkada nunchi vachhaaru? (Are you looking for plots? Where have you come from?)” is the question that greets them. The conversation soon revolves around land and how buyers have been turning up to enquire about plots. The March 3 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court directing the government to develop Amaravati as the only capital has driven up interest in land in the region and come as a ray of hope for many residents.

In 2014, the Chandrababu Naidu government announced that Andhra’s capital would be located at Amaravati. In the months that followed, more than 33,000 acres were acquired from farmers in the region and a master plan of the capital city was released to the public. Following this, several development works began in the capital. However, in 2019, after Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP was voted to power with a thumping majority, it was decided that Andhra would have three capitals instead of one. The idea was decentralisation and overall development of the state. This announcement shattered the dreams of the Amaravati farmers who had given their lands after they were promised residential and commercial plots in the developed capital city. And nearly three years after Jagan came to power, his three-capital plan hasn’t fructified yet because of several legal hurdles. In this background, the recent HC order has brought cheer to the local residents.

One of the many rusting foundations and the Andhra Pradesh High Court in the background

The HC directed the state government to develop Amaravati as the capital, as proposed under the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act, 2014. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government was ordered to stick to the master plan prepared by the previous government, and develop infrastructural facilities around the acquired land as promised in the Act.

What farmers were promised

The TDP government planned to build the dream capital of Amaravati on land acquired from farmers. Over 33,000 acres were acquired and agreements signed with individual land owners as part of the land pooling scheme launched in December 2014. The understanding was that the government would acquire agricultural land and develop it into urban real estate. It was widely publicised that the development would raise the value of land, after which a part of the original plot would be returned to the owner.

The Naidu government portrayed it as a farmer-friendly scheme, which will bring rich dividends for those parting with their land. Many believed that the scheme was the government’s way of circumventing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The farmers accepted the land pooling on the condition that the government would lay roads, build the drainage system and other civic amenities when the plots were returned to them. They were told that once the capital was built, Amaravati would evolve into a major hub, that businesses would set up shop, and they would eventually become owners of very prime and expensive property. However, Jagan’s three capital-plan – Amaravati would retain the state Assembly and become the legislative capital while Visakhapatnam would be the executive capital and the seat of power while Kurdnool would be the judicial capital – shattered their dreams.

The farmers, who had been protesting ever since, were jubilant at the HC order.

Massive buildings in Amaravati that have now been abandoned

‘Hopes pinned on judiciary’

When TNM visited Amaravati, the farmers had entered the 813th day of protest. Like in many of the 29 villages that had parted with their lands for the building of the capital, in Thullur too nearly 100 people sit under the shade of a tent continuing their protest as slogans of “Andhrula ekaika rajdhani – Amaravati” (One and only capital of Andhra – Amaravati) echo.

While the HC order has brought a lot of cheer, the farmers are concerned that the government will find a loophole or a way to skirt the order. “We will continue our protest until Amaravati is developed as the capital city. Though our wounds have begun to heal, we will never forget what caused the wound,” one of the protesting farmers tells TNM.

For the last few weeks, the daily protest, which begins at 9 in the morning, ends at 1 pm due to the heat. On the dais are statues of Nyayadevata (Goddess of Justice) and Buddha, adorned with bright red flowers. Asked if the Nyayadevata statue was a recent addition, one of the farmer leaders says, “From the beginning we have pinned our hopes on the judiciary. The statue has been there since the beginning of our protest.”

Statues of Nyayadevata (Goddess of Justice) and Buddha

Dr Ramalingaiah Pajja, who has been part of the protest, says, “The government’s plan is to drag the issue. The farmers are victims of political vendetta. Jagan Mohan Reddy has proved he is a destructive Chief Minister. The farmers’ padayatra sent a loud message.” Dr Ramalingaiah, who was a practising doctor in Muscat, decided to give up his job and stay back to fight for the cause of the farmers. Among a minority of people who parted with large plots of land for the capital, he gave 5 acres while other members of his family gave another 5 acres.

Also read: After AP HC orders to develop state capital, protests continue to ‘Build Amaravati’

Across villages, farmers say that the High Court’s order has rekindled hope. Vimala Reddy, a mother of two, has been part of the protests since the beginning. Every morning she finishes her work and leaves home to participate in the protest. Asked what has changed after the HC’s order, Vimala replies, “We sleep peacefully now. There is a smile on the farmers’ faces. For several months before this, there was looming anxiety and despair. The dark clouds seem to be clearing as the court’s order has come as a silver lining.”

Vimala, Pavani Matha, Samrajyam Naidu, Nagamani Machela are among the women who have been participating in the protests diligently. In fact, a majority of those participating in the protest are women. While Samrajyam and Nagamani parted with 2 acres and 1 acre of land respectively as part of the Land Pooling Scheme, Vimala and Pavani gave 0.5 acres each. “Why should we suffer, what have we done to deserve this? All we did was agree to part with our land for the development of the capital,” Pavani says.

Vimala, Pavani Matha, Samrajyam Naidu, Nagamani Machela and others protesting in Thulluru

R Sivakrishna Naik, a tribal engineering graduate, works in a rice shop in Thullur village. He had big dreams of bagging a job in one of the companies in Amaravati after his graduation and eventually settling down in the capital city. Though he completed his engineering, his dreams failed to take off, and today he earns a salary of Rs 9,000 per month at the rice shop. Sivakrishna is among the thousands of others who believed their small world would change for the good when the TDP government released its master plan in 2014 announcing that the capital would be built at Amaravati.

Though disappointed with the way his life turned out, Sivakrishna’s face still lights up as he speaks enthusiastically about the recent turn of events. “In the last few years, people who come to the shop used to buy small quantities of sanna biyyam (good quality rice). They would take it home and mix it with the poorer quality rice that they get from the ration shop. But in the last one week, I’ve sold nearly 8 bags of sanna biyyam every day, which in itself is an indication that people are feeling hopeful.” He also says that moneylenders who were ignoring farmers have again been lending them money in the past week.

Land prices go up

Before the TDP government declared Amaravati as its capital, land prices here were around Rs 8,000 per sq yard. After the capital development works began, the prices shot up massively. One piece of land is even said to have sold for Rs 49,000 per sq yard, the highest in the area. Prices crashed when the new government announced the change of capital. Until a few months back, the price was as low as Rs 12,500 per sq yard. Despite this, there were no buyers.

People no longer wanted to buy land in Amaravati because of the confusion that prevailed about the capital. However, ever since the HC order there is again a shift in the mindset of the people, say local residents. Sellers are now quoting between Rs 18,000 and 20,000 per sq yard. If the HC order is implemented by the government and the capital is built in Amaravati, the price of lands will increase exponentially. The plots returned to the farmers, as per the CRDA Act, would be much more valuable – in line with what was promised to them when they parted with their land.

Another abandoned building in Amaravati

What the government says

While Opposition parties have welcomed the HC judgment, Minister for Municipal Administration Botsa Satyanarayana said that the state government is still committed to its policy of decentralisation of administration. He also went on to say that the Union government had clearly stated that it is the prerogative of a state to decide the location of its capital. He said the government would develop lands in Amaravati but it would be done considering time and available funds.

While the six-month time limit set by the AP High Court has been called unrealistic and impractical, it remains to be seen what the Andhra Pradesh government will decide about developing the capital. While highly placed sources in the party hint that the government is likely to move the Supreme Court against the HC order, the Opposition is also expecting this course of action as it will buy the state government more time.

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

You can read the first part here:
8 years on, Andhra’s dream capital Amaravati’s foundation rusts, farmers’ debts mount



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