Tension prevailed in Andhra Pradesh's capital Amaravati as authorities from the state government on Tuesday night began demolition of a building adjacent to former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu's rented residence on the banks of the Krishna river.
As visuals of earth movers demolishing the Praja Vedika were being shared on social media, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) General Secretary Nara Lokesh hit back, telling TNM that it was 'petty politics' that the ruling YSRCP was indulging in.
The YSRCP said that the annexe building or Praja Vedika, which was built by Naidu to hold meetings and press conferences, was only the first 'illegal' building to be pulled down. "We want to send out a clear message. We will not stop at this. This entire road will be cleansed," Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy said on Tuesday, hinting that Naidu's residence (a rented one) would also be demolished.
"As far as the Praja Vedika is concerned, it is government land which was acquired via land pooling from farmers, through the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA). The structure is government property. It is the government's wish to pull it down, even though it is unfortunate that they are destroying public assets as it was built from the state's exchequer," Lokesh told TNM.
However, Lokesh says that when it came to demolition of the house, it won't be that easy for the government. The house was constructed by the Lingamaneni group, a construction firm which has close ties to Naidu.
"As far as our residence is concerned, it followed all rules and regulations when it was constructed before 2014. It is also 50 metres away from the banks of the Krishna river and has all permissions needed from the local Panchayat. The government can't just pull it down," Lokesh said.
Pointing out that the residence was private property built on private land, Lokesh added, "I am sure that the owner of the property will definitely move court as all the rules and regulations were followed."
However, not everyone agrees.
E A S Sarma, a retired senior bureaucrat, who had moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) when the proposal for the construction of Amaravati was put forward by the state, argues that the former CM's residence is illegal.
Speaking to TNM, Sarma says, "There are over 25 such buildings near the banks of river Krishna and a case is being heard in the High Court. While the final decision on the buildings will be made by the court, we have argued that the structures violates the Andhra Pradesh River Conservancy Act, 1884 and certain guidelines banning construction on floodplains under the Centre's Environment Protection Act."
He also alleged that the structures violated past judgements and orders passed by the NGT, banning construction within 100 metres of a riverbank.
Meanwhile, it seems that the YSRCP is not planning to take a step back anytime soon.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Jagan said that he deliberately chose to demolish the Praja Vedika, to show how it was constructed by the government itself, in violation of many rules.
He said a letter by the Irrigation Department points out that the maximum flood level of Krishna river is 22.6 metres, while the Praja Vedika was constructed at a height of 19.6 metres. "This building breached the River Conservation Act, Lokayukta judgments, Green Tribunal orders, Master Plan and building bye-laws," he claimed.
As some senior officials interrupted to correct him, he went on: "The former Chief Minister stays in an illegal building. Even if I stay, it is wrong. It doesn't make a difference. We are in positions of authority. Is it justified for a CM, SP or Collector to do such a thing?"