Hyderabad/Vijaywada: Ever since Andhra Pradesh (AP) decided in 2015 to build a new capital Amaravati between Vijayawada and Guntur, it has faced criticism from different quarters, particularly with regard to environmental and land acquisition concerns. But the most scathing criticism so far has come from none other than former chief secretary I.Y.R. Krishna Rao, who has minced no words in his latest book on the new capital city.

In Whose capital, Amaravathi?, Rao has termed the government’s land-pooling scheme to acquire about 33,000 acre farm land for the upcoming capital as “deceit and coercion". He has also questioned the logic behind choosing the particular area for Amaravati near Vijayawada.

Rao, who retired as chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh in January 2016, has also alleged that the state government overlooked the recommendations of the Siva Ramakrishnan Committee appointed by the centre to study alternatives to the new capital and did not easily give information to it for the work. “The committee did not suggest any place, but it specifically said not to build a capital where it is coming up. Its views were totally disregarded," he told Mint.

When asked if he raised these issues with chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, Rao said that there was “no space" for it, and alleged that Naidu had managed to create a lot of hype with support from the local media on Amaravati. “There has to be decentralization or there will be a lot of discontent among people from the Rayalaseema region (if the capital city is not accessible). Amaravati was decided upon as a capital without any discussion or debate," Rao claimed.

Another interesting aspect in the book is the mention of Donakonda in Prakasam district, which he called “the aborted neutral capital".

“What I had in mind was an administrative capital where from the government business of the new state could be handled. It was not meant to be an instant megapolis," Rao wrote.

A whole chapter is devoted to Donakonda, in which Rao states that he had prepared a concept note as chief commissioner of land administration in joint Andhra Pradesh, suggesting this location as an option in 2013 itself when it became evident that Andhra Pradesh would be bifurcated. He claimed that about 50,000 acres of land was available with the government within a radius of about 10km.

However, Sreedhar Cherukuri, commissioner, Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), rejected Rao’s claims and stated that certain people who are complaining about land acquisition want to retain the land and get undue benefit. “If they participate in the pooling process, they will get about 27% of the original land back as a developed parcel. They want to retain the entire 100%," he said.

On the allegations of overlooking the Siva Ramakrishnan Committee’s recommendations, Cherukuri mentioned that the AP government did consider the report, after which the state assembly passed a unanimous recommendation. “Everybody can give an opinion, but it is for the government to decide. I have not seen any district or state in the country where a distributed capital of the kind proposed in the report is in existence," he said in an interview.

Cherukuri also didn’t agree that the lands acquired from farmers are valuable agricultural land. He claimed that according to revenue records, 99% of the area is classified as dry land. “Perhaps, about 12-15% of the 34,000 acre taken over via land pooling had earlier been used for growing two crops each year with the use of groundwater. The rest was only single crop land," he added.

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