The flawed idea of three capitals

Hyderabad: Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s announcement that Andhra Pradesh may well have three capitals in the model of South Africa evoked massive political and public response across the state and elsewhere in Telugu-speaking areas around the world. Hinting at the possibility of Amaravati reduced to a mere legislative capital, Vishakhapatnam to be the executive capital and Kurnool as Judicial capital, the Chief Minister called this decentralisation suited to the tight fiscal regime prevailing in the state.

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s aversion to Amravati is nothing new. As the opposition leader in the last house, he kept himself away from the foundation stone laying ceremony attended by the Prime Minister and Telangana Chief Minister. He vehemently opposed the land pooling for the capital which he called forcible land acquisition.

Jagan had nothing big to offer on Amaravati even in his election manifesto. The first budget saw a meagre allocation of Rs 500 crore for the capital. The budget speech was forthright in stating that the grandiose capital plan is no longer the priority. Adding insult to the injury, responsible leaders of the government went on making ambivalent statements on the future of Amaravati. The ultimate salvo came in the form of Chief Minister’s own assertion that this government bids adieu to Chandrababu Naidu’s grand capital dream.

The reasons given for justifying three distinct capitals are quite curious. Decentralisation essentially means devolution of administrative functions but not the relocation of State organs to three different places. The development opportunities certainly need to decentralise. Governance needs to be decentralised. Devolution of funds, functions and functionaries are a prerequisite for effective governance. But, locating the three organs of the State – executive, legislature and Judiciary – at three different places is now defined as decentralisation of development.

The distance between Amaravati and Visakhapatnam is 387 km, the distance between Kurnool and Amaravati is 310 km. Obviously the distance between Kurnool and Visakhapatnam is much higher at about 690 kilometres. Though technology bridges distance gaps in the modern era, the location of three wings of State at three different places separated by such long distances pose serious logistical challenges. The functions of the executive, legislature and Judiciary are inter-connected, though Constitutionally separate. The logistics shall impose additional social and economic costs on the already cash-starved State. Surprisingly, the argument for shelving grand Amaravati plan and adopting the three-capital plan is the fiscal stress the State is facing. But the alternative will certainly entail higher recurring expenses besides the dislocation of human resources it brings in.

Emulating the South African model for a state like Andhra Pradesh is simply irrelevant. Andhra Pradesh does not inherit the historical and cultural compulsions the Union of South Africa did due to its colonial and apartheid past. In fact, the then President Jacob Zuma in his 2016 State of the Union address urged the Parliament to consider doing away with multiple capitals and go for a single capital to reduce fiscal and logistical constraints.

In India’s parliamentary democracy, the close relationship with which legislature and executive function need no special mention. The electorate hardly view their public representatives as legislators alone. The MLAs mediate between people and bureaucracy on any and every executive activity. In fact, several senior government officials attend court duties on any functioning day. Judiciary is loaded with cases that demand the government to respond. Thus, the three-capital plan not only entails fiscal wastage but puts severe stress on public representatives, government machinery and people at large. Inviting such complications is certainly undesirable though such a split capital plan may serve the parochial political demands.

YS Jagan quotes South African experience without making any analysis of its relevance to the Andhra Pradesh situation. In 1910, when the union of South Africa was formed, there was a dispute about the location of the capital city. The formula of executive, legislative and judicial capitals is the result of a compromise to distribute the balance of power throughout the nation. Pretoria had long been the home of foreign embassies and government departments. Cape Town was the seat of Parliament since the colonial days. Andhra Pradesh is not burdened by such historical legacy to emulate the South African model of three capital cities.

The global experience of choosing the capital is distinct to each country’s problems and situations. The capital of Nigeria was moved to the geographically central city of Abuja in 1991 to signify the unity of a nation divided along religious and geographic lines. Brazil shifted its capital from the crowded coastal city of Rio to inland city of Brasilia in 1961, aimed at bringing progress in the country’s hinterland. Similar such stories of historical, cultural factors defining the choice of capital city emanate from different countries. But Andhra Pradesh does not travel through such complex situations imposed by history to split its capital among three cities.

Just before the chief minister dropped a hint to this effect, the finance minister in an elaborate submission to the state Assembly made a compelling argument that the previous government’s choice of Amaravati was marked by insider trading, to the tune of over 4,000 acres, benefitting vested interests closer to former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and his alleged benamis. Notwithstanding the veracity of this allegation, a possible scam marking the formation of capital cannot be the valid reason for taking away the executive operations from Amravati. The government is well within its right to expose any such scandal and punish the guilty. It can even take over the land if something wrong is established. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy cannot tax the people of Andhra Pradesh for any omissions and commissions of his political adversary. The Municipal Administration minister has earlier stated that the capital city on the river bed of Krishna is prohibitive due to the condition of the soil there. Even the finance minister referred to this in his presentation to the Assembly. Such questions were raised even when the capital was contemplated here.

The earlier TDP government unilaterally brushed all these adverse opinions under the carpet to unveil its grand Amaravati plan. If this government feels the genuineness in the argument of environmental sustainability of the capital city on the river bed, it can make necessary modifications. Anyhow, the government is against any elaborate capital. A modest capital with administrative, legislative and judicial buildings will not be environmentally unsustainable and fiscally imprudent.

At least Rayalaseema has a justification in demanding High Court at Kurnool. As early as in 1937 an agreement was reached, popularly called Sribagh agreement between the leaders of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema to locate either capital or at least the high Court in Kurnool. This Rayalaseema city was the capital of Andhra state between 1953 and 1956. Ideally speaking, three organs of the State – executive, legislature and judiciary – should be located at one place. But due to historical factors, one can appreciate relocating judiciary with which common man does not have a daily attachment. But splitting the executive and legislative functions of the capital between two different cities is not a prudent idea. Instead, the government should focus on distributing economic opportunities across North Andhra, South coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

Prof K Nageshwar

Prof.K. Nageshwar is noted political analyst and columnist. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and currently a professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is the former editor of The Hans India. He was earlier the Editor-in-Chief of Telugu news channel HMTV. He was the founder chairman of 10TV. He is the author of the books Interpreting Contemporary India; How to win at life.

He served on the United Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council as an independent member from 2007 to till the bifurcation of the State in 2014 representing the Graduates' constituency of Hyderabad.

2 comments on "The flawed idea of three capitals"

  • I have read with care and you have made valid points. However let us wait for the committee report to be relased to the AP governmentand give your final thoughts

  • “Andhra Pradesh: THREE CAPITALS – THREE MONKEYS”

    After seeing the TV Channels discussions on three capitals idea; and Volte-face statement by the Vice-President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu on Wednesday expressing reservations over the idea of thee capital cities for Andhra Pradesh, I thought it is the right time to express few of my thoughts on this vital issue that will have major impact on people and environment.

    Vice-President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu claimed these are his personal views and not from as Vice-President of India, He observed in this context that “his statements should not be read from a political point of view but should be taken as one from a person who has years of experience in public life”. Same volte-face was seen on English medium in school education in his opinion on Wednesday. It is surprising; in fact he will have no personal views when holding dignified post on political issues. There is no surprise to see such observations as in the past he was behind Chandrababu in getting clearances for all the projects including Amaravati against the Sri Krishna Committee report [appointed by the Central Government] and environmental groups’ observations.

    Unfortunately in both the Telugu states, development means “Real Estate”, knowing very well that this helps the concentrated growth of wealth in few hands at the cost of environment and human health. Development became a mantra for the division of states or creation of Capitals. TDP regime followed this mantra after 2014 for AP Capital and now YSRCP following the same.

    When TDP regime started acquiring fertile agriculture land used to grow three crops in a year, farmers refused to part with their lands. The government played all-types of tricks and acquired the farmers’ lands. Now, the very same farmers are protesting when the present YSRCP government thinking for the change of Capital to Vijag. Then why this hypocrisy!!!

    Though Amaravati was a good choice as capital of AP, this was negated by the TDP regime making it as real estate capital. TDP government in fact allocated around 25,000 acres of government land [former forest land] to Japan Company for real estate. This area would have been the best choice for capital city of AP. There would have been any inside-trading issue and thus YSRCP government’s three capital idea. TDP preferred real estate capital at Amaravati. Naturally, this angered the YSRCP, the new government. Also Amaravati location has high environmental hazards. Again the YSRCP made same mistake and choose Bheemili for the Capital under the fictitious three capitals. This is worse than Amaravati in all aspects. It is highly unsuitable for AP capital. Look at Canberra in Australia and Brasilia in Brazil; both are very big countries, yet selected clean and green capitals. Indian politicians unfortunately look at real estate and thus creating “dirty” capitals.

    Decentralization of administration for the growth of all regions in the state in a balanced way is a good policy but the present recommendations of the committee and YSRCP leaders out bursts on this show it is all “Eyewash”. Bheemili/Vijag is the YSRCP’s real estate Capital of AP while TDP’s real estate capital of AP is Amaravati. Now, nor surprisingly, local TDP leaders are supporting the choice of Vijag as they hold thousands of acres of land.

    The Executive Capital at Vijag which is far away from Anantapur is over loaded with around 75% of Capital activities while the other two Capitals [really they are not Capitals, Vijag is the Capital of AP] get around 25% of Capital activities only. By this YSRCP is doing the same mistake as that of TDP. Both think Capital means “Real Estate”. Both Amaravati and Bheemili suffer from the point of environment and as well land litigations – inside trading at Amaravati and SIT enquiry on land deals, pollution and as well it is an adda to anti-social activities in Vijag.
    • From the judicial capital, separate benches were allocated to Amaravati and Visakhapatnam but from the activities of the other two capitals, none were allocated to Kurnool capital;
    • From legislative capital summer assembly sessions were allocated to Vijag – very horrible time in Visakhapatnam but no such provision was given to Kurnool like winter assembly sessions. However, division of assembly sessions is a bad idea;
    • From executive capital none were separated. Why? For example irrigation and mining departments could be located in Kurnool; municipal administration could be located in Amaravati; etc. without effecting the executive capital functioning;
    Now unemployed politicians from Rayalaseema once again raised the “Greater Rayalaseema”. Unfortunately they have no idea basically on water. Linking of Rivers is the only solution to get water to Greater Rayalaseema region.
    From all the media reports, it is clear that there will not be three capitals but only one Capital at Vijag, a very bad idea; instead the best choice is to have Capital at Amaravati in DRY AREAS.
    In view of all these it is essential to take balanced act on the distribution of activities among the three the so-called capitals instead overloading executive capital city or one Capital at Amaravati in dry areas. Otherwise it seriously affects YSRCP’s fortunes in the next elections as Kurnool and Amaravati are infructuous Capitals – only on paper.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

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