Social activist group Better Andhra Pradesh has threatened legal action against the state government if Praja Vedika, a government building on the Krishna basin, is allocated to anyone. The group reacted to a letter by the former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking the continued use of the building. The group has said that Praja Vedika, and other constructions on the river basin, are illegal under the River Conservation Act.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief, after resigning from his post as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, sent a letter to the AP Chief Secretary seeking the Praja Vedika at Undavalli Village of Amaravathi to be designated as his 'residence annexe'. Praja Vedika is a media building where Naidu, during his tenure as CM, held press conferences and official meetings. The premises are right next to his rented residence. Naidu sought the building in his capacity as Leader of Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, a position that enjoys Cabinet rank perks.
The Praja Vedika building was constructed by Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) under the direction of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA). The contract, worth Rs 5 crore, was given to NCC without a public tender. Further, Better Andhra Pradesh, an organisation working on social and environmental issues, points out that these buildings, numbering 30 in total, are all illegal constructions under the River Conservation Act. Under the Act, no construction activity should take place within 500 meters of the river – a zone that is considered as the river bed.
There are an estimated 78 buildings along the Krishna river, including Naidu's residence and Praja Vedika. Better Andhra Pradesh says there are 18 illegal constructions on the Krishna district side of the river, and 48 on the Guntur district side.
The issue first came to light sometime in 2016-17 when it was pointed out by social activist Bolisetty Satyanarayana and former AP Information Commissioner P Vijaya Babu, the founders of Better Andhra Pradesh. This issue was then picked up by the YSRCP as a political tool with the Mangalagiri MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy filing a PIL with the Hyderabad High Court in July that year.
The court in 2017 closed the plea by directing the petitioner to approach the state government authorities. The court had also directed the officials to take action if the petitioner makes a representation. Very little has happened on this front since then.
Now with the TDP chief's letter, Better Andhra Pradesh is mulling moving court if the newly elected Andhra Pradesh state government grants the request. "Our demand is that all these 48 buildings should be demolished. The whole construction is on the river basin, and as such is illegal. It is in violation of environmental laws. We will be holding a press conference and will proceed legally if it (Praja Vedika) is allocated to anyone,” Vijaya Babu said.
He further added that the final call on whether these buildings should be demolished or not will need to be taken by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), and said that he had submitted a memorandum to the NGT on the issue. Vijaya presently is an advisor for the Andhra Pradesh BJP.
The TDP now claims they never had any real intention of being allowed to work from the Praja Vedika office. "We just wanted to observe what kind of response they give," said LVSRK Prasad, TDP leader, who also added that the request, if granted, would be convenient to Naidu as he resides besides Praja Vedika. The party is yet to hear from the Andhra Pradesh state government on the request for the 'residence annexe'.
But what puzzles the TDP now is news reports about the YSRCP also making claims to the Praja Vedika building. "We don't know why they are also asking for the same building. We have our party offices and stronghold around Undavalli but as far as YSRCP is concerned, their offices and locations are not near Undavalli," said Prasad.