Petty politics, dvpt rhetoric & Reddy’s 3-capitals plan

Petty politics, development rhetoric and Reddy’s 3-capitals plan

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s eight-month tenure has been noticeable for the several sweeping decisions that he has taken -- like turning all government schools into English-medium schools, intending to prepare underprivileged children for a globalised, English-speaking world. This month, Reddy launched Amma-Vodi (mother’s lap) scheme – a Rs 15,000 per year handout to lower income group mothers to send children to school. It might burden the state financially but is touted as a move to improve school enrolment ratio.

Jagan, as he is popularly known, has also brought in a new farm input incentive scheme and expanded the ambit of public healthcare. Yet, Reddy, 47, is not being hailed as a welfare-centric CM, but is being widely seen as a modern-day Tughlaq, thanks to what seems to be his one-point agenda.

Since he became chief minister in May last, Reddy has been busy either reversing the decisions of his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu or downsizing programmes that he had started. Observers say, Reddy’s obsessed with this one agenda. 

First, Reddy scrapped the contract given by the previous government to an engineering firm for the dam and powerhouse works of the Polavaram project on Godavari river and went in for “reverse tendering.” Reddy claimed to have saved the state Rs 830 crore by doing so.

Then, he cancelled investment agreements that Naidu had made, like one with the Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group to build a Rs 2,200-crore international convention centre, shopping mall and hotel in Visakhapatnam, citing “non-transparent process” and the allotment of 14 acres of prime land at a throwaway price. He also scrapped a start-up hub project with a Singapore consortium that was intended to develop Amaravati into a financial hub, citing non-feasibility.

Last week, Reddy made his most disruptive decision yet, and got his cabinet to approve two Bills to strip Amaravati of its status as Andhra Pradesh’s mega-capital. The Bills allow setting up of three capitals, and shift the seat of the executive to Visakhapatnam and judiciary to Kurnool. They were passed by the Andhra Assembly, where Reddy has an overwhelming majority, with 153 out of 175 MLAs, but the Bills are stuck in the Legislative Council. So, what does Reddy do? Reddy gets the Assembly to pass a resolution to scrap the Legislative Council itself.

Naidu’s dream, Amaravati

Amaravati is a greenfield, “world-class mega capital” envisaged by Naidu, adjacent to the Krishna river near Vijayawada. His government had procured 33,000 acres of fertile lands for it since 2015. Naidu partnered with Singapore-based firms to build the core capital and the start-up hub.

Though Reddy, then Opposition leader, was initially supportive of this mega-city idea, he later alleged a large-scale land scam by Naidu and his men. Reddy even kept away from the Amaravati Foundation event attended by PM Narendra Modi in October 2015.

Once he became CM, Reddy made his aversion to the grand project clear. Aware that Naidu is still credited by Hyderabadis for transforming a sleepy city into Cyberabad, a globally recognised IT hub, he sees no point in continuing to build a capital city which has Naidu’s imprint all over it.

Since most of the lands in the Krishna and Guntur districts, at the junction of which Amaravati lies, are owned by TDP leaders and the Kamma community that party is associated with, Reddy is said to find repugnant the idea of massively benefitting his rivals by developing an ultramodern capital there.

He has stalled all works on the secretariat and other buildings while allocating a meagre Rs 500 crore in the budget for the capital. As a result, the World Bank and Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank have backed out from funding the Amaravati project. 

Alleging that Naidu, his son Lokesh and other TDP leaders had benefitted from land transactions just before the declaration of Amaravati as the capital, Reddy has initiated a probe. The state CID has already booked two former TDP ministers in the case.

Jagan says that Amaravati requires over Rs 1 lakh crore, which a resource-poor state like Andhra cannot afford. Moreover, the concentration of all state-sponsored growth in one place is unfair to other regions, he says.

Three Capitals

While yanking the administrative set-up away from Amaravati, where it had moved only three years ago from Hyderabad, appears odd, Reddy’s plan to have three capitals -- Visakhapatnam in northern Andhra as the seat of the executive, Amaravati as the seat of the legislature and the judiciary at Kurnool in Rayalaseema – is an eccentric idea. 

Naidu was quick to compare Reddy with Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the 14th century sultan who moved his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in the Deccan, only to then reverse it.

Visakhapatnam/Vizag is 400 kilometres and Kurnool 350 km from Amaravati, and Visakhapatnam and Kurnool are separated by 720 km by road. Kurnool was chosen as the judicial capital “in line with the aspirations of” Rayalaseema people. As per the 1937 Sribagh pact with Andhra leaders, Rayalaseema should either have been the capital or the seat of the High Court for decentralised development.

Addressing a ‘Save Amaravati’ rally in Anantapur, Naidu warned that people would need to travel for four days to get even a small work done in the secretariat. Naidu’s constituency Kuppam in Chittoor district is nearly 1,000 km from Vizag.

But Reddy is firm in his belief that Vizag as the executive capital would mean growth for the backward Uttarandhra region comprising Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam. These three districts are traditional strongholds of the TDP and Reddy would like to lure them away to his party.

Jagan’s aides say that since Vizag is already a developed city, setting up the executive – the CM’s office, secretariat, Raj Bhavan and various departments - could be done with Rs 10,000 crore and that the port city holds the potential to beat Hyderabad.

Asked about the concern over public inconvenience due to the long distances involved, Reddy’s ministers say that only a negligible fraction of people have any work that needs a visit to the secretariat.

Government employees are a worried lot since many of their duties involve visiting the secretariat, Assembly and the courts, sometimes on the same day. Senior officials are sceptical of the three-capital structure and say it could throw administration out of gear at least in the initial years.

While the people of 11 districts (barring Krishna, Guntur) largely seem to be unconcerned with Reddy’s move, farmers of the 29 Amaravati villages who were promised great prosperity in return for their lands are an agitated lot, protesting against Reddy’s plan for over 41 days now.

While there is no clarity yet on what will happen to the vast lands acquired in Amaravati, inconsistent comments from Reddy’s ministers are further infuriating the people. Developing the area as a special agriculture zone is one of the purported options.

Andhra experienced turbulence pre- and post-bifurcation of the erstwhile state. Now,  the three-capitals move has kicked up a new storm, and it will be a long time before the dust settles.