3 capitals in Andhra: Are concerns over logistics of shuffling between cities valid?

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3 capitals in Andhra: Are concerns over logistics of shuffling between cities valid?

The Andhra Pradesh government’s proposal to establish three separate capitals with different functions has stirred up a massive controversy in the state. Farmers and landowners from the Amaravati region, who are some of the major stakeholders in the issue as they had contributed thousands of acres of land in exchange for developed plots in the capital, have been protesting the decision for nearly a month as it would lead to a drop in land prices.

While the loss for farmers and landowners has become the primary grounds for objection, a few observers have also termed the decision foolhardy, questioning whether moving around the administrative apparatus and officials between the three proposed capitals of Vizag, Amaravati and Kurnool would end up being a logistical nightmare. Critics have also questioned whether the move would become a massive financial burden on the state, which is already going through a major financial crisis.

However, several former bureaucrats are of the opinion that this may not be the case. Retired senior bureaucrat EAS Sarma says that the travel between Vizag and Amaravati is unlikely to cause a major problem, as it is just a matter of 30 to 40 days in a year. Similarly, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary IYR Krishna Rao is also of the opinion that the back and forth between cities is not going to be a major problem for the state government.

On the surface, the YSRCP government has been advocating three capitals with different functions in the interest of ‘decentralised development.’ As per the government’s proposal, Amaravati will be the ‘legislative capital’, Kurnool the ‘judicial capital’ and Vizag the ‘executive capital’. Some observers have pointed out that the idea of ‘three capitals’, while repeatedly being spoken of in the context of decentralisation of governance, is masking the fact that the capital is essentially being shifted entirely to Visakhapatnam.

The various committee reports and proposals shared so far have indicated that as the ‘executive capital’, Vizag will house the Chief Minister’s Office, secretariat and the heads of various administrative departments, as well as a High Court bench. Moreover, the winter Assembly session is also likely to be held in Vizag. Amaravati and Kurnool are likely to be rendered irrelevant in comparison, as Amaravati will be limited to hosting the budget Assembly session. While Kurnool may get the High Court, fulfilling a longstanding demand of people from the region, Vizag and Amaravati are both likely to have High Court benches, bringing down the importance of Kurnool as a ‘legal capital’.

Therefore, rather than be distracted by the logistics of having ‘three capitals’, experts say that the government must be held accountable for its claims of ‘decentralised development’ through the devolution of authority from the state headquarters, be it in Amaravati or Vizag, to the district, mandal and panchayat levels.

“Amaravati as visualised by the previous govt was highly expensive and disruptive with no commensurate benefits in terms of enhanced public accountability and transparency in governance. It promoted unhealthy real estate profiteering and imposed huge costs on Dalits, marginal farmers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers. The new government should not repeat this at any of the other locations,” Sarma says.

To avoid the stress of rapid urbanisation and stress on natural resources, he suggests that three executive capitals must be set up across the three cities, with internet connectivity and video conferencing to facilitate better coordination among officials. With three High Court benches in each city and Assembly sessions held in each city through rotation, Sarma says that regional balance in governance can be restored.

Recent reports suggest that the state government is set to bring in a new legislation entitled “The AP Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Act, 2020” in the special Assembly session scheduled to begin in Amaravati on January 20. A draft note suggested that the new legislation will establish various state organs and departments in three different zones. Interestingly, while the GN Rao committee had suggested dividing the 13 districts of the state into four regions, to be administered by Regional Commissionerates, the Boston Consulting Group report had suggested division into six regions.

While the fears over the logistical problems of three capitals might turn out to be misplaced, the danger of existing patterns of hyper urbanisation and concentrated governance repeating themselves in a new location remains.