I have been an unabashed admirer of Mr. N. Chandrababu Naidu especially with his accomplishments as Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh (AP) previously. Why? He succeeded in establishing AP as a progressive, information and technology-oriented, modern educational hub. He was motivated in his endeavours, perhaps prompted by the prominence Bengaluru was getting in this regard. In this connection, he had travelled far and wide to summits and meetings to attract powerful entrepreneurs and companies. The GDP which was Rs.1,700 billion at that time during his tenure in the undivided AP, around 1999 (data from the EPW Research Foundation) is about Rs.4,574 billion now, from 2014. It cannot be denied that much of this was due to Mr. Naidu’s exertions. Above all, he had instilled in the people of AP a sense of belonging and pride in the State; he made them believe that AP was and is destined to great heights. Unfortunately, his present preoccupation with the subject of capital development in present day Andhra Pradesh, to be called Amaravathi, in the region between Vijayawada and Guntur, appears to be dragging him down.
The expert committee appointed by the Home Ministry under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, and which I had the honour to chair, stated in its terms of reference that fertile, agricultural lands should not be touched as far as possible. Let me explain this. The entire Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri (VGTM) area is regarded as the rice bowl of AP; for that matter, it is, without doubt, one of India’s important granaries. Now, to take away 30,000 acres of land from the Thullur, Tadepalli and Mangalagiri mandals which are double crop and triple crop yielding areas and which will result in the dispossession of farmers there for temporary financial gains is an example of short-sighted policy. Some farmers may of course see this as a windfall, spending the monetary compensation on material goods, fancy automobiles and houses. Separately, commercial outlets are dependent on consumer support. In such a situation, it is unlikely that this scale of consumer support will be available in the short run, of five to 10 years, to support the kind of development that one is seeking. The northern part of Thullur is reported to being earmarked to play a key role in the functioning of the capital city. Yet, the fact is that there is no master plan available for the so-called capital city. Nothing is available online — for example even on the AP website — making it impossible to have an idea of what is being planned where.
Another point I wish to highlight is the subject of soil preparation work especially in an area which has a high water table. In a related way, consolidation, road infrastructure and various other items of infrastructure will take a long time to develop and build, even assuming that some land is made available. In the 100 or more new towns India built since Independence, and this includes Chandigarh, Bhubaneshwar, Gandhi Nagar and the ‘steel towns’ of Bokaro, Durgapur and Rourkela, it took nearly seven to eight years to have the basic infrastructure in place and this was just for the setting up of one or two major industries and entrepreneurial needs! Therefore, the claim that in AP, all these can be done within a span of five years is a gross exaggeration.
The expert committee had pointed out repeatedly that the most serious challenge before AP is to create more than three lakh jobs a year and with significantly higher productivity. These jobs do not seem to be in sight. Towns which have been battered by the recent cyclone need to be rebuilt. Important facilities such as the High Court, and as suggested by the expert committee, have to be located there. These will give some boost to AP.
It is welcome that in Chittoor and Tirupati, medical and some educational facilities are beginning to be set up, mainly with the help of private sector enterprise. But we should not forget that Chittoor and Tirupati draw their strengths from being near the border with Tamil Nadu rather than Hyderabad. Also, in all the talk about Tirupati and Chittoor having the potential to be major educational and health centres, there has been no mention of the potential of Rayalaseema. This is unfortunate. Also, when talk around the subject of the capital appears to recognise a shift of financial capital as well to the VGTM area, one can be quite certain that protests will erupt. The committee has repeatedly said that the most important challenge facing Mr. Naidu, and which he should resolve with his political acumen as soon as possible, is the need for him to look at balanced development as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and not just of the VGTM area.
The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 gave both AP and Telangana a time frame of 10 years to share Hyderabad as a common capital. The committee made a number of recommendations on how this time could be utilised. I am not holding an alibi for the committee; committees have been set up in the country before; some of their recommendations have been accepted while some have been rejected. So, it does not matter whether the recommendations of this committee are accepted or not; what matters is the future of Andhra. There is still time for Mr. Naidu to retrace his steps.
The Act gives ample time for Mr. Naidu to concentrate on the larger issues that confront AP rather than be bogged down by the issue of land for the capital. The companies based in Singapore and which are working on the master plan for the new capital are reported to be seeking 3,000 acres outside the capital territory but inside the VGTM area.
Singapore-based entrepreneurs are said to be holding or trying to get hold of significant land parcels in several parts including China. That may well be their policy, but in this case, in AP, the point I wish to make is that whatever goes to Singapore’s land quota comes from agricultural land parcels. Apart from those directly affected by the capital project, there are millions of households that have no direct and indirect independent agricultural land or income in this area. Given the volatilities in the global economy, it is practically impossible to guarantee the security and the well-being of these families. Funding for the construction of the State capital and its maintenance will have to be mobilised through international financing; the Central government has already indicated the limitations of what it can extend to AP towards this.
It is reported that land holders who account for an area of about 32,000 acres have agreed to surrender their land and accept land pooling. At the same time, there are also reports of growing resistance to the plan in some areas alongside the right bank of the Krishna river. What AP is trying to do is very different to land pooling attempted elsewhere in the country and with varying success. It should be recognised that the success of the Gujarat land pooling plan, which is often mentioned in this context, took place in dense urban areas where the negotiations had a touch of realism. Plans were published repeatedly in a bid to seek consent and it was clear what the authorities intended and what the land holders would be getting.
AP will become a better-knit geographic and economic entity if Mr. Naidu spends the next few years concentrating on some of the very important projects including those in which the Central Government’s support has been assured such as the coastal corridor, a gas pipeline and its transmission to Rayalaseema, the Nadikudi-Kalahasti railway line, and development of some of the railway lines east to west. This will also build up the political strength of Mr. Naidu across the State.
Every political capital requires political support. But in this case, the fact is that that kind of political support is not available for the capital city project in the State as a whole. AP has a history of being guided for years with the help of a number of able and experienced administrative officers. If only Mr. Naidu can utilise their talent to reorganise some of the priorities before the State at least for the next few years! The point is not about some landmark capital city which may come about later. What is important right now is the nearly suicidal move to mortgage AP’s political energy and financial resources to this capital project.
(K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, Chairman of the Centre for Policy Research, was chairman of the Government of India appointed ‘Expert Committee on AP capital’.)