Oh Vizag! How selecting capital has become a thorny political issue

It was in 2014, the TDP government led by Chandrababu Naidu had been in search of a capital city. Under Section 6 of the AP Re-organization Act, a committee under the chairmanship of Sri Siva Ramakrishnan, a former Secretary for Urban Development, had been constituted.

By Bhaskar Basava  Published on  6 Feb 2023 4:26 AM GMT
Oh Vizag! How selecting capital has become a thorny political issue

Visakhapatnam has been witnessing several political upheavals since the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, The city, which is also a tourist destination, has turned into a political hotspot for major political parties.

In the 1930s, Dr. CR Reddy who was the founder and first vice chancellor of Andhra University called Visakhapatnam - the ‘City of Destiny'. Visakhapatnam, with a population of more than 20 lakh is blessed with picturesque beaches and serene landscapes. Plus the city also has a magnificent economical and strategic past.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s recent announcement at the International Diplomatic Alliance meeting in New Delhi has again sparked a row over the state capital.

Addressing the summit, CM said: "I am here to invite you to Visakhapatnam which will be our capital. I will also be shifting to Vizag in months to come. I invite you and your colleagues to see for yourself how easy it is to do business in Andhra Pradesh."

Why AP CM Jagan has chosen Vizag over Amaravati

Siva Rama Krishna committee has recommended developing Vizag as the IT hub of the state. “It does not consider a single large capital city as a feasible option available to Andhra Pradesh as of now,” the committee said Jagan and Co have been making all moves to gather support for Visakhapatnam.

It was in 2014, the TDP government led by Chandrababu Naidu had been in search of a capital city. Under Section 6 of the AP Re-organization Act, a committee under the chairmanship of Sri Siva Ramakrishnan, a former Secretary for Urban Development, had been constituted.

Members of this committee included eminent personalities in this field of Planning, Finance, and Administration. The central government in their terms of reference asked the committee to consider issues like the least possible dislocation of existing agricultural systems, preservation of local ecology, promoting environmentally-sustainable growth, vulnerability assessment from natural disasters, and minimizing the cost of construction and acquisition of land.

On the other hand, Chandrababu Naidu appointed a separate commission headed by P. Narayana who was the then minister of municipal administration. The committee looked into three possible approaches: Creating a green field mega city that also functions as the capital city, expanding the existing cities, and even distributing government activities across the length and breadth.

However, both commissions have given contradicting recommendations for establishing the capital. Siva Rama Krishna's committee suggested: "The area between Vijayawada-Guntur may impose a threat to the economy of the state, apart from creating environmental degradation. It has identified Martur (Bapatla), Vinukonda (Palnadu), and Donakonda (Prakasam) regions as ideal for the location of the new capital of Andhra Pradesh.

Narayana committee said: "Capital of Andhra Pradesh must be centrally located in the state of 13 districts, which should be in between Vijayawada and Guntur." The then CM Chandrababu Naidu went ahead with his cabinet recommendations and announced Amaravati as a capital ignoring the statutory committee recommendations. People of 29 villages in Amaravati donated 33,000 acres of fertile land for building the capital city.

In Oct 2015, PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone and hence buildings and businesses were established. Amaravati was being built as per the approved plan. Despite accepting Amaravati as a capital on the floor of the assembly as an opposition leader, CM Jagan in Dec 2019 had taken a U-turn and proposed three capitals in line with South Africa. This government also passed the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation & Inclusive development of Regions Act 2020. Under this arrangement, Visakhapatnam would be made the Executive capital, Kurnool Judicial capital, and Amaravati as the Legislative capital.

The move faced a lot of criticism and challenged in the High court. CM Jagan even repealed the bill after identifying loopholes. In March 2022, the court ruled in favor of farmers. It directed the government to develop only Amaravati as the sole capital of the state. The state government went to the supreme court and brought a stay on the High court’s judgment. Jagan again revived the three capital's proposal and hinted to bring a new bill with a decentralized plan.

Jagan alleged insider trading at the time of finalizing capital in 2014. CM Jagan said, "It is Chandrababu and his cabinet who bought thousands of lands for a cheaper price before the announcement. Thousands of fertile lands were occupied by TDP kins and close associates."

Minister for MAUD Audimulapu Suresh presented GOin the assembly as primary documentary evidence to prove TDP's insider trading of Amaravati Lands. It has been said that Chandrababu Naidu and TDP kins have acquired over 4000 acres of land in Amaravati.

Minister Bugganna said in his presentation to the AP assembly said: “From 1st June to 30th Dec 2014, around 4070 acres of land had been registered under the names of TDP's close kins and employees. It includes former minister P. Narayana and other former ministers of the committee who suggested Amaravati as the capital. How could 4070 acres of land come registered in the span of six months even before an announcement?”

Sources said: "AP CM Jagan has looked for an alternative as most of the lands and area is settled by the TDP's kin who are mostly from Kamma community. Realizing the fact that developing the area would result in benefitting only their associates, he looked for an alternative with the help of panels that were set up for him. It has recommended Visakhapatnam as the suitable capital. He has looked for such an area which requires fewer budgets for development and more scope for an increase of his footfall of his close aides from Reddy community."

Locals Pulse

Selecting Amaravathi as the capital for political reasons and shifting it to Visakhapatnam is a sad state of affairs. However, Visakhapatnam can compete with any city in India. “Considering its, flexibility to connect through Air, Port, Road, and Railways it will offer the best service for the Business sector,” said Dr. K Jagadeeswar Rao, a social reformer and an academician from Visakhapatnam.

Senior journalist Srinivas Rao said: "Growing political relevance will put the settled middle classes on the edge of political contest. The growing political relevance leads to the rise of local leaders who will have the final say and land ownership. Prices and standard of living have skyrocketed. If it continues, the city will be one of the hubs for political riches."

Locals said there is no consultation by the government with the people before announcing Vizag as the capital. Most of the locals have opined that instead of making it a capital, they can develop it as a tourist or IT hub.

With the ongoing capital call, the city will see full of action. And it is yet to see how YSRCP will introduce the Capital bill in the upcoming session.

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