Hyderabad: The new state of Andhra Pradesh has decided to build its capital around the centrally-located Vijayawada, ignoring concerns raised by a central committee.
Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu made a statement to this effect in the assembly on Thursday, despite opposition party members’ demand that the government first discuss the issue.
The K.C. Sivaramakrishnan committee set up by the Union home ministry had said that setting up the capital in this area would be unfeasible and undesirable, thanks to high land costs and infrastructure development on fertile land.
“We have decided to locate the capital city in a central place of the state around Vijayawada and to go for decentralized development of the state with three mega cities and 14 smart cities,” Naidu said. The state cabinet, he said, had arrived at the decision at a meeting on 1 September.
He added that land for the capital would be acquired through a pooling system to be worked out by a cabinet sub-committee.
To allay concerns of concentrated model of development as it happened with Hyderabad, the capital of united Andhra Pradesh that went to Telangana during the bifurcation of the state, Naidu stressed that his government would ensure equitable development throughout the state. “All districts have to develop. Justice has to be done to all,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh will share capital Hyderabad with Telangana for 10 years, after which it will go to the latter.
Opposition leader Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party said he “wholeheartedly welcomed” setting up the capital in Vijayawada but expressed concern that high land prices would lead to prohibitive living costs.
“We don’t mind where the capital is located,” Jagan Reddy said. “But we have been saying from the beginning that the capital should have 30,000 acres of government land. Then, the government will be in a position to fix land price... High land prices will affect government employees and students,” he said.
The area around Vijayawada, referred to as Vijayawada- Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri (VGTM) region, was widely expected to be named the new capital after Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) swept to power in assembly elections in April-May. This fuelled speculation, leading to land prices skyrocketing to as much as Rs.10 crore an acre from about Rs.50 lakh in a few months. The Sivaramakrishnan committee had pointed out that land acquisition may become a “very expensive option”.
“The committee is strongly of the view that locating several governmental offices within the VGTM urban area is both unfeasible for financial reasons and undesirable for decentralized development,” it said in the report.
“As far as the Centre is concerned, we will go by the decision of the Andhra Pradesh government,” Union urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said at a media briefing. “The Centre will definitely extend support to the new capital of Andhra Pradesh.”
Location of the state capital is the prerogative of the state government, said Jayaprakash Narayan, founder of Lok Satta movement, and a constitutional expert. “Constitutionally, where you locate the seat of government is your choice,” he said.
The resolution was passed by the House through a voice vote.
During his speech lasting nearly two hours, Naidu outlined his broad vision for the state, and the infrastructure investment plans for each of the 13 districts.
Visakhapatnam, the biggest city in the new state and one of the leading contenders for the capital, would be transformed into a mega city with a new international airport to attract information technology firms, start-ups and the film industry. Three metro rail projects have been proposed at Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Tirupati.
Vijayawada is the biggest town in Krishna district, named after the Krishna river which passes through it.
Because of limited land availability and presence of many buyers, land prices have skyrocketed around Vijayawada, said Veera Babu, who heads the Hyderabad operations of real estate consultancy Cushman and Wakefield India Pvt. Ltd. “Because of the speculation for the last 3-4 months, the land value is already inflated. It cannot go up further. All this speculation should end,” he said.
Naidu said a land pooling system, which was followed while building Chandigarh and Navi Mumbai, would be a “win-win” for the farmers. The delta region of the Krishna river is one of the most fertile regions in the country, and therefore agricultural land comes at a premium.
Owing to its central location and the presence of a mercantile community, Vijayawada has evolved as a trading town and has given rise to several wealthy families.
Vijayawada has played a historical role as the political capital of Andhra Pradesh, geographer Anant Maringanti noted. But the area around the city cannot take a huge infrastructure load, he said.
“There are a lot of streams in the delta region. If you build without any regard to gradients, it will lead to an ecological disaster,” Maringanti, who runs Hyderabad Urban Lab an urbanization-focused multidisciplinary think tank, pointed out. “One can pretend that none of this matters... All you need is one big flood to wash away all the effort. Why would you do that? It doesn’t make sense.”
The October 2009 floods affected parts of Krishna and Guntur districts, where the capital is proposed to come up.
Analysts also sounded a warning against the concentrated model of development in the new capital. “It does not matter where you locate the capital. But this notion in India, in some states, that everything should be centred around political power, is not a wise thing,” Narayan observed.
Ever since the united Andhra Pradesh was proposed to be divided, nearly every district in the new state was a contender for state capital. In an apparent bid to placate other aspirants for the state capital, Naidu announced a number of promises ranging from hardware parks and educational institutions to ports and airports.
Narayan described the undertakings as “lavish, populist and irresponsible”. “It is so nice to make lavish promises. First of all where is the money? Fiscal prudence is the most important thing,” he said.
“This lust for power is killing the state. You really can’t make too many promises. Any real promise has to come from the private sector. To attract the private sector, you need to build infrastructure and you need a non-polarised atmosphere.”
But politicians, over the last few years, have created polarization in Andhra Pradesh, which, Narayan pointed out, could be impediments in attracting the private sector. “Today this is as bad as it can get. There is direct polarization on sub-regional basis and caste basis in Andhra Pradesh,” he said.