The Rs 9,000 crore or so that was spent on Amaravati, the proposed capital of residual Andhra Pradesh, may go down the drain if the recent statements by ministers in the state government are anything to go by. The signals by the YSR Congress government, since it assumed power, have left no doubt that Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy would like to dump the capital plan as envisaged by Chandrababu Naidu.
Even as the government has been keeping people on tenterhooks over its plans on capital development, the clearest statement came from Municipal Minister Botsa Satyanarayana. He said that Amaravati was not a suitable place for being the capital as the entire area is prone to frequent flooding. He said the cost of construction would be huge in Amaravati compared to other places.
"It is going to be a huge burden on the state exchequer and a lot of public money is going to be wasted," the minister asserted.
The recent controversy over the alleged flooding of former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's leased residence on the banks of Krishna was also essentially an attempt by the ruling party to dub the capital area as flood-prone. That the argument about the capital region being flood-prone is not substantiated by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) indicates that it was brought forth by the government primarily to chuck the project.
The NGT in its judgment in November 2017 clearly stated that there was no problem of flooding in the capital city:
"Although the applicants have alleged that the capital city is prone to flooding from the river Krishna, on the basis of certain documents, but the fact is that the areas mentioned in these documents do not fall within the proposed capital city boundary. The reference to Guntur made in these documents is with regard to the district as a whole and not to any particular area falling within the proposed capital city. Apart from it there is no flooding in the capital city area from river Krishna because of the existing embankments/bunds. Therefore, the proposed city is not located within flood plain."
Jagan, while in Opposition, made wild allegations about the capital project being a big scam through which Naidu and his colleagues made a lot of money through what he called 'insider trading'. In a book titled Emperor of Corruption that his party published before the recent elections, Jagan alleged that the amount of the corruption indulged in by Naidu for the Amaravati project was Rs 1.66 lakh crore.
While that is an outlandish claim given that the estimated cost of the project for the first phase was Rs 51,687 crore, Jagan appears to be sticking to his guns as he formed a committee to ferret out the scam in the capital while grinding all construction activity to a halt in Amaravati.
But suspected malfeasance is not what is stopping Jagan from going ahead with the capital project. Since the area in which the new capital is coming up is seen as a support base for TDP, the ruling party is not very keen to go ahead.
One of the reasons for the success of land polling in Amravati is attributed to the caste configuration in the area. At least 60 percent of those who own land in this area belong to the same caste as Naidu. But what apparently influenced the farmers most was their faith that the TDP chief was capable of creating another hi-tech Hyderabad in the hinterland, opening up new opportunities.
The YSR Congress chief also believes that a large number of TDP leaders bought land in a major way in the capital region, and will be the primary beneficiaries of the development of the capital.
Since Amaravati is the brainchild of Naidu and evolved as a brand that was strongly associated with him, the chief minister is not enthusiastic about the prospect of making the TDP's dream project come to fruition. He would prefer to put his own stamp on the new capital. Although Jagan has yet to reveal what is on his mind regarding the nascent capital, it is widely believed that he is planning to scale down the ambitious plans. The state government officials are talking about decentralisation — dispersing key government functions in various regions of the state.
However, it is not going to be easy for the Jagan government to cock a snook at the capital plan, as the project has gone too far to be rolled back without causing immense material loss and human suffering.
The previous government has been criticised for delaying the project in its obsession for grandiose plans. However, a significant amount of work has already taken place making it difficult for the current dispensation to turn its back on the entire project.
Since the new state did not have money for land acquisition, the then chief minister came up with the land pooling scheme, under which around 28,074 farmers came forward to give 34,010 acres after making them partners in development. The farmers got 1,200 to 1,500 square yards of developed plots per acre given for pooling.
Besides, the farmers were also extended several benefits including payment of rent ranging from Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 per acre per annum for 10 years, with a 10 percent hike every year. Debt waivers, free education, health camps, subsidised canteens and other benefits were also extended to the landowners.
Developed plots have already been allocated to the majority of farmers in the capital area, although not necessarily on their farms. According to officials, 65,235 returnable plots of which 37,531 residential and 26,038 commercial plots were allotted to landowners.
Now, even if Jagan wants to go back, it would be nearly impossible to undo the elaborate process and return the lands to the farmers. The lands have turned fallow as cultivation stopped since 2015, following the commencement of construction work.
The previous government had issued tenders for Rs 39,875 crore of works in the capital, which is around 77 percent of the entire project. These works include trunk infrastructure, Land Pooling Scheme infrastructure and the construction of government complexes and other structures.
A total of 320 kilometres of arterial and sub-arterial roads were chalked up as per the master plan, of which 285 kilometres are under execution. Construction for apartment housing for MLA, AIS, NGO, GO and Class IV employees is presently in the advanced stages. Around 1,000 flats for AIS officers are almost complete, while around 92 lakh square feet is under various stages of construction currently in the core capital region.
Architects and designers Foster and Partners of London completed the designs for the master plan for the new government complex, which forms the central focus of the 217-square-kilometre city. The project includes the design of two key buildings: The legislative Assembly and the high court complex, along with several secretariat buildings. The foundation was laid in December 2018 for the secretariat complex, consisting of four towers of 40 floors each and another with 50 floors, coming up at the cost of Rs 3,500 crore.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi conducted the bhoomi pooja in February last for the high court complex, coming up on 42 acres at a cost of Rs 732 Crore.
An interim secretariat complex with 6 lakh square feet space and a transit High Court facility housing a 2.70 lakh square feet office space are already functioning in the capital city.
To give a boost to educational activities in the area, the previous government had invited several institutes to set up their campuses by offering them land at lower prices. Thus, premier universities — Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) and SRM University — have begun operations in Amaravati with 3,500 students. Amrita University and National Institute of Design (NID) are in the advanced stages of construction. Reputed management school XLRI has also commenced execution of work to set up a facility in Amaravati.
Eight schools of repute such as Podar International School, Global Indian International School (Singapore) and Chinmaya Mission School, and multispeciality hospitals including Indo-UK Hospitals, AIIMS and BR Shetty Hospitals have been allotted land. Major hospitality brands such as Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Novotel, Holiday Inn, GRT, Green Park and Daspalla were already allotted land, while allotment was in progress for hotel brands like the JW Marriott Group, Taj Group and ITC Group. A convention centre with a capacity of 2,500 persons, working on a PPP model, is under construction and was earlier expected to be operational by the end of 2019.
It is unclear what will happen to all these institutes and establishments if the Jagan government is keen on either scrapping the capital in its entirety or turning it into a bare-bones functional capital.
Agreements were signed by the Naidu government with the Singapore consortium Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp for developing the startup area of 6.84 square kilometres. With no response from the newly-installed government, this project is unlikely to take off. No wonder the trips by Singapore officials to Amaravati, which were frequent earlier, have now completely stopped.
Following the instructions of the new government, the Capital Region Development Authority recently directed all the consultants it engaged for the capital city development project to ‘demobilise’ their teams, including Foster and Partners, until further notice. Since agreements were in place for all these consultants, they would have to be paid in full for their work already done.
Under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, the Centre was tasked with facilitating the creation of new capital for the successor state of Andhra Pradesh. Accordingly, the Centre had released an amount of Rs 1,500 crore for the development of the new capital. Besides, the state government successfully raised Amaravati bonds worth Rs 2,000 crore on the Bombay Stock Exchange through private placement from institutional investors.
In these circumstances, the Narendra Modi government may not take kindly to the whimsical approach by the state to such a costly project.
The people's resentment is also building up as abandoning the capital at Amaravati at this stage will leave the river-front city a ghost town with half-finished roads and under-construction buildings. And the state will be saddled with a lot of unnecessary debt over the monies already spent.
Given the complicated scenario, the Jagan government may find little room to play around with in the upcoming capital despite its hostility to the project.
The author is a Hyderabad-based journalist
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2019 12:36:12 IST