Experts says the capital is unlikely to be the remedy for the problems in the region because it is being shifted out of Amaravati for purely political reasons.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy in a white shirt sitting and speaking into a mic in front of him
news Politics Sunday, August 02, 2020 - 18:14

As the bill on unbundling of the capital of Andhra Pradesh, presently located at Amaravati, received assent from Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan on Friday, Visakhapatnam, tucked in a corner of the bifurcated state, is poised to be the seat of power. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government which came to power in May 2019 piloted the bill providing for three capitals with the catchphrase of inclusive development for all regions.

Jagan’s resolve to establish the executive capital at Visakhapatnam raises hopes over prospects of development in the backward Uttarandhra region, comprising Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. The government identified the IT Hill in Madhuravawada area to house the temporary capital. A permanent capital with Assembly and Secretariat is proposed to be built in a sprawling section between Bhimili and Visakhapatnam. If built, the permanent capital with the proposed international airport at Bhogapuram, 10 km away, is expected to spur development in and around the area by attracting investments from within and outside the country.

However, the unspoken question that hounds the citizens is whether the development triggered by the capital will address regional backwardness in the Uttarandhra region? The under-development in Uttarandhra is marked by mass exodus of people in search of employment, recurrent crop failures caused by acute drought conditions and the lack of permanent irrigation facilities. Rough estimates suggest that over 50% of the 1 crore people in the three districts, deprived of employment opportunities, deserted their native villages and migrated to urban spaces across the country. The exodus took place in spite of the fact that Visakhapatnam is an industrial epicentre with a lot of job opportunities. The industries set up in the area engaged skilled and even unskilled workers from outside, leaving locals high and dry.

A grim warning

Initially under French control, Visakhapatnam city evolved and flourished. Under the British, it became a centre of rapid development. The Andhra Medical College was founded in 1902; railway connectivity to Madras and Calcutta was established in 1904; Andhra University came up in 1926; the port was built in 1933, Eastern Naval Command in 1947 and Visakhapatnam Steel Plant in 1981. Besides, the city became a hub of chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

KS Chalam, former Vice-Chancellor of Dravidian University who hails from the Uttarandhra region, told TNM that the lopsided development that took place in and around Visakhapatnam failed to provide a remedy for the distress in the region. The development, in fact, alienated people from their land which made way for industries, educational institutions, the steel plant and the port. Farmers gave away 20,000 acres for the steel plant alone; they were given R (rehabilitation) cards with the promise of jobs in the plant. But with no hope of the promise being realised, many of the displaced farmers sold off their R-cards. Some farmers even make the rounds with the fond hope of getting a job, Chalam says. If this is how the capital will come up, it serves no purpose to the locals, he adds. He says the capital should not mean land scams and realty boom, as seen in Amaravati.

The region presents a picture of utter neglect on the irrigation front for several decades. Swathes of lands are barren and left abandoned as a result of the failure to harness the Nagavali and Vamsadhara rivers. Projects proposed on these two rivers remain pending for several decades for want of dialogue from successive governments in the state to settle inter-state disputes with neighbouring Odisha.

‘Outside’ dominance

Of the 25 lakh acres in the three Uttarandhra districts, more than 10 lakh acres remain without access to irrigation, says Sivashankar, an activist from the Uttarandhra Development Forum.

Euphoria over the capital shifting to Visakhapatnam is overshadowed by the apparent ‘foreign’ domination in the Uttarandhra region. Outsiders, who were originally from coastal Andhra, took control of lands, resources, and even politics right from the early days of Independence, pushing the native people to the background.

“We’ve put up with coastal Andhra dominance all these years. Now, we may have to go under action culture patronised by Rayalaseema nethas with the capital location,” observes JVVS Murthy, CPI state assistant secretary from Visakhapatnam. The leader says the capital is unlikely to be the ‘sanjivani’ (remedy) for the basic problems confronting the region because it is being shifted out of Amaravati for purely political reasons.

The capital in Visakhapatnam may sow seeds of discontent in the peripheral backward areas, if the experience with Hyderabad is any indication. Hyderabad emerged as one of the seven fastest developing metropolitan cities in the country by attracting capital and labour from far and wide. The city with a 400-year history is well-developed with better public services and skilled labour, leading to growth disparity in the peripheral districts. Urban planners engaged in the executive capital building in Visakhapatnam will hopefully focus on this uneven development paradigm in Hyderabad, Chalam says.

Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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