Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy while indicating the possibility of having three capital cities-executive at Visakhapatnam, legislative at Amaravati and judicial at Kurnool-has understandably sparked off a serious political controversy and street protests.
However, contrary to expectations, that a final and formal decision to this effect will be taken in Friday’s Cabinet meeting, the State Government has deferred its decision. Later, it was clarified by Information Minister Perni Nani that the government is yet take a final call on the matter.
It should be noted that despite a cash-strapped economy, the earlier government, headed by N Chandrababu Naidu, went ahead with its mega green-field capital plan by setting aside the report of Shivaramakrishna Committee that recommended distribution of capital functions and decentralised development model.
On its part, the incumbent government appointed an expert committee headed by retied civil servant GN Rao to study the feasibility of continuing the Amaravati capital plan initiated by the previous government and the possibility of evolving any other suitable alternatives given the imperatives of balanced economic development and fiscal prudence.
The panel, which submitted its report recently, has proposed distributing the functions of capital across different cities to ensure decentralised development. The committee recommended against continued execution of highly centralised Amaravati capital that entail an estimated fiscal burden of over a lakh crore rupees. Meanwhile, the government commissioned yet another study by internationally reputed Boston ConsultancyGroup (BCG), which is expected to submit its report early next month. The cabinet has presumably decided to appoint a high-level committee to minutely study all the three reports and, subsequently, formulate an action plan.
Notwithstanding this exercise, the YSR Congress government seems to have taken a political decision to dilute the Amaravati capital story authored by Mr Naidu. IT raises a pertinent question-why is it hesitating to announce the same?
The critics interpret it as a response to opposition supported protests by the farmers in 29 villages of the core capital region. But, Jaganmohan Reddy has carefully crafted a political strategy in timing the announcement. The Chief Minister’s assertion of three-capital plan, emulating the South African model, in the state Assembly was neither accidental nor a sudden emotional utterance. The YSR Congress government has been categorical in its opposition to the Naidu-inspired Amaravati model. An Amaravati grand plan never figured in Jagan’s series of populist promises during his padayatra.
In fact, the government earmarked a meagre Rs. 500 crore allocation in its first budget for the capital, where works in progress were brought to a grinding halt in the name of reverse tendering. And now the multiple capitals bombshell has been delivered. The government is deliberately buying time to execute its plan.
Even while repeatedly asserting that his government has not yet taken a final call on the matter, Perni Nani in his long interaction on the television channel owned by Jagan, Sakshi, said that the Amaravati grand Greenfield capital is out of question as it is financially unviable. Taking a satirical jibe at Naidu, he said that while such an internationally known and experienced chief Minister could hardly mobilise less than six thousand crores in five years, how can an inexperienced Jagan mobilise over one lakh crores still needed to realise the dream of a green-field capital for Andhra Pradesh? The State Government has its commitment to the welfare of the people and ones that require huge fiscal resources and hence cannot afford to spend on the capital, he added.
This clearly indicates the intention of YS Jagan to shift the executive and judicial capitals to Visakhapatnam and Kurnool respectively. However, taking time in the name of perusal of multiple committees has three distinct purposes.
Firstly, the ruling party and the government leaders will leave no stone unturned to put Chandrababu Naidu in the dock on Amaravati before embarking upon shifting some of the capital functions from there. Finance Minister B Rajendranath Reddy in an elaborate presentation in the Assembly made a determined bid to establish the allegations of massive insider trading in the capital region. The new government alleges that the people personally and politically closer to Naidu have purchased over four thousand acres in the run-up to the announcement of capital at Amaravati.
It is not accidental that the Group of Ministers (GOM) set up to probe the irregularities in the award of contracts and other distortions in Amravati story submitted its report to the Cabinet when it met to discuss the GN Rao committee report. Therefore, selling the story of Naidu’s Amravati gamble will be done along with the process of shifting away the capital. This is a clear attempt by Jagan to demoralise the political opposition to his three capital plan. Thus, the government and the ruling party would first try to convince the people that Naidu was not sincere in construction of Amaravati. His capital fiasco made it inevitable for the new government to shelve the grand proposal. This is precisely what the ruling dispensation in Andhra Pradesh wants to establish before implementing their ideas on the capital.
Thus, deferring the decision is an attempt to gain a sort of political legitimacy to the new plan of having three capitals.
Secondly, the opposition is already crying foul over shifting the capital. The opposition says the decision is inspired by ulterior economic considerations. The TDP even accuses YSR Congress leadership of resorting to insider trading in Vishakhapatnam. Therefore, the YSR Congress government embarking upon the exercise of appointing multiple committees is aimed at communicating to the people at large that its new plan of distributing capital functions is a professional decision in the given precarious fiscal situation. Naidu was also fond of international consultancy firms.
By invoking Boston Consultancy Group (BCG), YS Jagan is speaking to Naidu in his own language. Besides achieving political and professional legitimacy to the rather perplexing model of three capitals, the delay in its execution is also aimed at neutralising dissent and assuaging the hurt feelings of famers who gave 33000 acres of their fertile land for capital under Naidu’s land pooling initiative. The government is working on an alternate plan to convince the people in the present capital region that their interests will not be at stake. It is reliably learnt that the government is busy authoring a development plan for Amaravati.
Municipal Development Minister, B Satyanarayana has made it clear that the government would develop Amaravati as an educational hub. A meeting of leaders of the ruling party from the capital region seem to have arrived at an opinion to announce this alternate development plan along with shifting certain functions of capital so that a feeling of being let down is avoided and also dent prospects of an opposition whiplash.
Meanwhile, the counter mobilisation has already begun at Visakhapatnam and north coastal Andhra in support of the distributive capital plan. The strategy seems to be paying off with the TDP badly divided over the new capital plan of YSR Congress government.
Several TDP leaders from the region are already coming in support of the Chief Minister quite contrary to the stand taken by the party boss. A further delay in implementation of the three-capital plan would further accentuate the dissensions in the opposition much to the advantage of the ruling party.
Thus, it was a calculated decision on the part of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to defer the decision on shifting executive and judicial functions of capital from Amaravati.