Prashanti, section officer in the Finance department in the Andhra Pradesh government, is busy setting up her new home near Vijayawada. She moved into the Andhra capital region, a week ahead of the Chandrababu Naidu-imposed deadline of June 27. That is the date by which 5000-odd employees of the Andhra government have to shift permanently from Hyderabad to Vijayawada. Another 15000 employees will shift in batches over the next two months.
“It is hard, no doubt,” says Prashanti, “We were settled for eleven years in Hyderabad and it is like starting from scratch. But then it is our state, isn't it?” Prashanti's office in Velagapudi, where the temporary Secretariat is located, is not yet ready and she will work out of a makeshift arrangement in the Planning commission's office. Though her two children have secured admission in a school in Vijayawada, her husband who is a lawyer practising in the Hyderabad High court, will continue to stay in Hyderabad and make weekend trips to Vijayawada to meet his family.
“When we have rights to administer from Hyderabad for eight more years till 2024, according to the AP Reorganisation Act, where is the tearing hurry to shift now, especially when the infrastructure is not even ready to work there?'' asks an official in deep anguish at the Andhra Secretariat in Hyderabad. He does not wish to be named, lest he be targeted for defiance. He says he does not like the idea of staying alone in Vijayawada, leaving his family back in Hyderabad. With another five years to go for retirement, he is contemplating taking voluntary retirement.
But not everyone agrees. Chinni Krishna, section officer in the Revenue Department says `Hexit' (Exit from Hyderabad) had to happen one day. “Administering from here is not justifiable when our salaries are being paid from the taxes collected from the people of Andhra Pradesh. Lack of infrastructure makes it a painful situation but we have to adjust,” says Chinni Krishna. He plans to shift first to Vijayawada and move his family from Hyderabad by Dasara.
This weekend, the Andhra sarkaar is on the road. On the 270 km long Hyderabad-Vijayawada National Highway to be more specific. Not just the employees but lakhs of files, 1.3 lakh police weapons, 11000 pieces of furniture are on the move to ensure they report for duty on Monday morning. To make matters easier, over 70 lakh pages of official files have been scanned and transferred on the information highway. The shifting of the seat of power will cost Rs 5 crore.
“The secretariat in Velagapudi is likely to get ready in another two weeks,'' says Parakala Prabhakar, Communication Advisor to the Andhra government. “We are not buying any new furniture. The time taken is essentially to refurbish the accommodation we have rented and make it ready for the employees.”
Naidu knew most employees, especially those close to retirement age, would be reluctant to shift. To assuage feelings of grudge, the chief minister announced flexible working hours, a 30 per cent hike in House rent allowance and a five-day week to allow weekend visits to Hyderabad. The district collectorates of Krishna and Guntur were asked to help in admitting children of employees to schools and also help with accommodation.
The initial date for shifting was fixed for June 15 but shifted by two weeks to June 27 as it was deemed to be astrologically and numerologically (2 + 7 = 9, Naidu's lucky number) an auspicious date. One reason why Naidu was in no mood to accept any requests that time be given till October. Naidu had his reasons why he wanted to move bag and baggage out of Hyderabad. Keeping his feet in both Hyderabad and Amaravathi, exposed him to the risk of falling between two capitals. Besides the expenditure incurred on officials and ministers travelling between the two cities, was only increasing.
Politically, Naidu was left with little choice after the cash for votes scam exploded in his face. Telugu Desam leader Revanth Reddy was caught red-handed on tape, allegedly bribing an MLA to vote for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections in June 2015. KCR used the probe by the Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau to turn on the heat, with mischievous plants that Naidu also could soon be in the dock. Ever since, Naidu has been more of a visitor to Hyderabad.
But ministers in Andhra and the babudom in Hyderabad experiment, that lasted a year did not work. Naidu now has just three years in which to show that his government delivers the goods. The shift is an attempt at getting his act together as he moves into the business end of his term. And that will include building the capital of Amaravati, for which he needs all hands on deck.
Meanwhile, the story of the shift from Hyderabad to Vijayawada is not without its ironies. In the messy division of government employees, Rajkumar, a driver with the Information department got allotted to the Andhra government even though he, a native of Warangal in Telangana, was at the forefront of the Telangana agitation. This was because under the 42:58 ratio of dividing employees between Telangana and Andhra, there were no vacancies left for him in Telangana.
For two years, he did not really care so long as he was getting his Rs 30000 salary. But now ordered to shift to Vijayawada, the 45-year-old rues that he has to leave behind his wife and three children in Hyderabad. “We have requested the Telangana chief minister to absorb all Telangana employees in Telangana government. We are hoping he will ensure we do not have to shift to Vijayawada. I have not taken a house on rent so I have no idea where I will spend the night in Vijayawada,” says Rajkumar.
Two years back, Andhra was hurt by the bifurcation. As Naidu forces Team Andhra to bid a permanent goodbye to Hyderabad, the government employees will hope that they see a new dawn in the `sunrise state'.