Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy. (Express photo by Ravi Kanojia)
On Monday, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly passed The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Bill, 2020, paving the way for three capitals for the state.
Amaravati, where former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had hoped to build his dream capital, will now be only the legislative capital, while Visakhapatnam will be the executive capital and Kurnool the judicial capital.
Rationale for three capitals
The YSR Congress Party government says it is against building one mega capital while neglecting other parts of the state. “We do not want to develop one area utilising all our available financial resources while other areas suffer due to lack of funds,” Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy told The Indian Express. The government has given several reasons for its “decentralised development” project.
* Historically recommended: According to the government, decentralisation was the central theme in recommendations of all major committees that were set up to suggest a suitable location for the capital of Andhra Pradesh. Finance and Legislative Affairs Minister B Rajendranath said it had been agreed in the November 16, 1937 Sri Bagh Pact (between leaders of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) that two university centres should be established in Waltair (Visakhapatnam) and Anantapur in Rayalaseema, and that the High Court and Metropolis should be in the coastal districts and Rayalaseema respectively.
The proposed three capitals of Andhra Pradesh.
In December 2010, the Justice B N Srikrishna Committee, set up to look into the demand for a Telangana state, said Rayalaseema and North Coastal Andhra were economically the most backward, and the “concentration of development efforts in Hyderabad is the key reason for demand of separate states”.
In August 2014, the K Sivaramakrishnan Committee appointed to identify locations for the new capital of AP said the state should see decentralised development, and that one mega capital city was not desirable.
* G N Rao Committee: A Committee constituted by the YSRCP government under former IAS officer G N Rao, in its December 2019 report, recommended three capitals for balanced growth, and four regional commissionerates along the lines of Karnataka.
* BCG recommendation: The government sought an opinion from the global management consulting firm Boston Consultancy Group, which on January 3, 2020, recommended that Visakhapatnam should be the seat of the Governor, Chief Minister, and all government departments, and a High Court Bench, and have provisions for a Legislative Assembly for use in an emergency; Vijayawada/Amaravati should have the Assembly and a High Court Bench; Kurnool should have the High Court and tribunals.
* High-powered Committee: A high-power Committee appointed by the government to study the recommendations of the G N Rao Committee and the BCG suggested that the state should be demarcated into zones with separate zonal planning and development boards in order to ensure inclusive development, and that infrastructure projects focussed Rayalaseema and North Coastal Andhra should be prioritised.
Major practical problems
The government argues that the Assembly meets only after gaps of several months, and government Ministers, officers, and staff can simply go to Amaravati when required. However, coordinating between seats of legislature and executive in separate cities will be easier said than done, and with the government offering no specifics of a plan, officers and common people alike fear a logistics nightmare.
The distances in Andhra Pradesh are not inconsiderable. Executive capital Visakhapatnam is 700 km from judicial capital Kurnool, and 400 km from legislative capital Amaravati. The Amaravati-Kurnool distance is 370 km. The time and costs of travel will be significant.
The AP Police are headquartered in Mangalagiri, 14 km from Vijayawada, and senior IPS officers who may be required to visit the Secretariat will have to travel 400 km to Visakhapatnam. Likewise, government officers who may have to appear in the High Court will have to travel 700 km to Kurnool, which does not have an airport.
All officers and Ministerial staff who may have to be at hand to brief Ministers when the Assembly is in session, will probably have to stay put in Amaravati, leaving behind their other responsibilities in Visakhapatnam.
There are no plans to construct new buildings in Visakhapatnam. Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister Botsa Satyanarayana has said there is enough vacant government office space available in the city.
Sources said government buildings on Hill 1 and 2 at Rushikonda IT Special Economic Zone have space to house the Secretariat and offices of the heads of departments. The government is considering allotting plots of government land at subsidised rates to over 14,000 state employees who are likely to move from Vijayawada and Guntur to Visakhapatnam.
Jagan Mohan vs Naidu
After the creation of Telangana, truncated Andhra Pradesh pinned its hopes on N Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with transforming sleepy Hyderabad into a global Information Technology hub during the time he was Chief Minister from 1995 to 2004. After the TDP swept the 2014 elections with help from its then ally BJP, Naidu focussed on building a world class capital in Amaravati. Through an innovative land pooling scheme, 33,000 acres of fertile land were taken from 29 villages, with landowners being promised developed, highly valuable plots in return, apart from monetary compensation per acre per year.
However, due to lack of funds and support from the Centre, Naidu could not build his dream capital; he did, however, build a plug-and-play Interim Government Complex, a temporary High Court building, and a permanent Legislative Complex; and commissioned several bungalows and apartments for lawmakers, judges, and officers.
Naidu’s bitter rival Jagan Mohan Reddy, however, scrapped the project. There is widespread feeling in Andhra Pradesh that the three-capitals plan is essentially intended to deny Naidu credit for building a signature capital after his own style.