- Amaravati, a new city being developed from scratch, will be the capital of Andhra Pradesh starting 2024. Currently Hyderabad is the common capital for both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
- For the city coming up on the banks of Krishna river, the government has pooled land from thousands of farmers from across the state and invited foreign governments to participate in the development.
- Three years on, the city is still in a nascent stage and progress is slow. Moreover, a section of farmers across at least four villages are yet to give their land and are even ready to go to court over it.
In 2015, the Andhra Pradesh Government led by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu started the development of a new capital city, Amaravati. But creating a new capital city from scratch has not been all glitz and glamour. Three years down the line, the lofty ideas have met with on-ground realities and the utopian dream of Amaravati is on a slow path towards its proposed shape and form.
Though the government has successfully pooled most of the land required for developing a capital city, the project continues to face the ire of environmentalists, landless labourers and a section of farmers who refuse to give their land to the government.
In June 2014, Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh and the capital city of Hyderabad was designated as the common capital for both the states for 10 years. But within these 10 years Andhra would have to create a new capital city.
Soon after, the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Government enacted the AP Capital Region Development Act 2014 and formed the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) for “planning, coordination, execution, supervision, financing, funding and for promoting and securing the planned development of the capital region development area, undertaking the construction of the new capital region development area, undertaking the construction of the new capital for the state of Andhra Pradesh and for managing and supervising urban services in the new capital area.”
The location of the de facto capital city, Amaravati, was identified between Vijayawada and Guntur alongside the River Krishna, comprising 24 revenue villages and part of Tadepalli municipality of Guntur district, covering a total area of 53,748 acres.
Of the total 53,748 acres of land required for developing the capital, 38,581 acres was targeted under the land pooling scheme launched by the state government. The rest was already owned by the state. Within two months of launching the scheme, in 2015, the government successfully got consent for pooling 34,690 acres of land, just short of a few thousands of acres from their goal.
The gap was because farmers of several villages refused to part with their land. They continue to oppose the project refusing to part with their land and are even ready to approach the courts.
Additionally, a section of farmers that own land on the river islands are already prepared as they anticipate the government will soon come seeking their land too. They are not in favour of giving it up without proper compensation.
Fifty four-year-old Kambhampati Devunidaya, one such farmer, owns a small parcel of the land on one of the river islands in River Krishna. Devunidaya is one among the 750 families who together own these 1100 acres. Land of these farmers has not been sought by the government so far but it is likely to be required sooner or later as the government has plans to develop these river islands. The farmers are open to giving up their land to the government in return for compensation equal to that given to farmers in the mainland.
“The government should go by the law. Why is the government selling land to private companies? The choice of selling our land should be left to us. Why is there separate packages for different kind of lands?” said Devunidaya, who is associated with the Ambedkar Agricultural Cooperative Society. “The package that is being given to farmers of the mainland should be offered to farmers like us who have lands on these river islands. Government anyways has a plan to develop river islands,” he said while speaking to Mongabay-India.
The Ambedkar Agricultural Cooperative Society, along with the Harijan Agricultural Cooperative Society and Lenin Agricultural Cooperative Society are the three agricultural societies in Amaravati whose farmers together own around 1100 acres of land. The farmers are mainly from the Dalit community, who were given land for agriculture by the government nearly 100 years ago.
The resultant inequality that will increase among the local inhabitants, along with the negative impact on the environment, has activists troubled and they predict the project is doomed.
G. Rohith, an activist with the Human Rights Forum that works in the region, highlights the caste inequalities that the project is perpetuating. “The peculiarity of land monetisation that has been the hallmark of the traditionally rich agrarian community, the Kammas, is now once again helping the same community to accumulate further wealth through this entire project. Now the inevitable question is, who are the losers? We can actually map the entire situation on the basis of caste hierarchy. The community to which Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu belongs, are the main beneficiaries because they are the people who own the land.” said Rohith.
“The biggest losers are the backward caste farmers who take land on lease from the upper caste farmers and the people belonging to scheduled castes who are the agricultural labourers. What will the entire grand global city result in? The land monetisation won’t be successful beyond a point. Andhra Pradesh has never really been an industrial state. It tops the income inequality in the country and these projects will further lead to inequality,” he explained.
Amaravati –A new Singapore or a utopia?
In October 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Naidu laid the foundation stone of the capital amidst huge fanfare with representatives of several countries in attendance. Initial estimates suggested that a capital of about Rs. 300 billion (Rs. 30,000 crore) would be required for developing Amaravati but it is expected that the actual money required will be probably more than double of the initial estimate.
Naidu, who is known for developing Hyderabad, has spent a lot of political capital and efforts in showing the dream of a world-class Amaravati, matching the likes of Singapore, New York or Amsterdam. But the dream is yet to materialise.
The government has drawn an exhaustive master plan with promises to address all concerns that all the major metropolitan cities of India face as of now. It promises pollution-free air and water, huge tree cover and parks, planned housing, efficient public transport including metro, renewable power and a riverfront. There are also talks about resorts on the river islands on the River Krishna.
Andhra government officials, including the APCRDA, claim everything has been planned to the smallest possible detail, taking inspiration from the best ideas from across the globe.
The development plan of the city is divided into three phases – the first phase from 2015-2025, second from 2026-2035 and the third from 2036-2050 – to ensure that the city grows properly and sustainably.
While it looks good on paper, the ground realities like land acquisition are proving to be a hurdle for the project. Even the huge international investment is yet to materialise.
During a visit to Amaravati in July 2018, Mongabay-India witnessed a few government buildings such as the AP Government’s secretariat which sits in the middle of agricultural fields. Transport systems and roads are at a nascent stage and the major activity is around an under construction housing project for AP’s legislators and the campuses of two universities.
“They (people who are opposing the project) don’t want to have the capital developed … all their allegations are politically motivated. Whatever we are doing is with detailed planning and the environment is one of the most important issues for us. The vision is to make it a happy city which encompasses sustainability, liveability and well-being of the citizens. These are our top most agenda points,” said Sreedhar Cherukuri, who is the commissioner of the APCRDA and is leading the project.
“We don’t want to copy or follow the existing principles. We have a great opportunity to create a new city which is centred around happiness. It is the first city in the world that is conceptualised, designed and implemented around happiness,” Cherukuri added.
Elections in Andhra Pradesh are scheduled in the first half of 2019 along with elections to India’s Parliament. Chief Minister Naidu is expected to highlight the project as it is now a matter of prestige and seek votes to complete it successfully. But those opposing it feel it may not even complete in the next 10 years.
Why the opposition?
The opposition to the AP Government’s mega project is due to various factors ranging from environmental reasons to opposition from farmers. There are even questions about the feasibility of the whole project.
“Amaravati is just an illusion. There are cases against the APCRDA Act itself and against the land acquisition process undertaken for the project. No farmer will live there, they will migrate. These villages will become slum areas tomorrow. It is only for the people who come out from outside. What is the development for these people who are called partners in development by the government? This is nothing but a way to deceive farmers. The law keeps changing. This capital do you think will happen in 50 years?” questioned Mallela Sheshagiri Rao, a Vijayawada based farmer and lawyer who is fighting against the project.
Rao owns about 15 acres of land in Amaravati but is yet to give it to government even though he can easily earn about Rs. 400 million (40 crores) by doing that.
“So many assurances were given when land pooling scheme started that in one year this will happen and by the third year that will happen. But it has been over three years and nothing has moved. It is all illusionary. Why should farmers bear all this? There is no accountability mechanism of all these people. All acquisition is stayed and APCRDA act will be challenged,” he added.
Rao further said that a master plan was formed but “the two universities that came out there violated it”.
“They were fined and allowed to continue. Now tomorrow others will use the same model. What is the use of such a master plan? Where will the 78 TMC of drinking water come from for the capital?” asked Rao.
G. Rohith of the Human Rights Forum said the government has not been able to show anything on the land it has already acquired.
“People who are yet to give away their land to the government feel that the government already has a majority of the land needed for the project and thus they should first show them something on that area before talking about the remaining required land,” added G.Rohith.
While some farmers are seeking a better compensation, there is also a section of farmers who don’t want to give up on their land at all.
“We are not against the capital city but our lands are the most fertile lands giving income to farmers throughout the year. Thus, our people won’t like to give land to the government. We will even oppose any such effort in the court,” said Nagi Reddy, a retired government official and a farmer in village Nidamarru.
Nidamarru is one of the four villages, along with Rayapudi, Undavalli and Penumaka, which has refused to give up land.
Explaining the rationale of not giving up the land, Reddy stated that his family owns seven acres and has a yearly income of about Rs. one million but the government is willing to give only Rs. 30,000 per acre which is way below the income they get from the land.
“During peak season, we have around 7,000-8,000 landless labourers working in these villages who earn anything between Rs. 350-400 per day and during the off-season they earn at least Rs. 200 per day. But the government will only give a pension of Rs 2500 per month to them. What has government done even on the land that it had pooled?” asked Reddy.
It remains to be seen whether India will have this world-class, “happy” city or will the plans die on paper. But for now, the utopian dream seems distant.
Banner image: Under construction housing project for Andhra Pradesh’s legislators. Photo by Mayank Aggarwal/Mongabay.