Protests over three capital cities

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy's decision to shift the state's administrative capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam and make Amaravati the legislative capital and Kurnool the judicial capital has snowballed into a major controversy.

The decision has shattered the dream of not only thousands of farmers who hoped to see a turnaround in their fortunes but also that of the Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who visualised Amaravati as a world-class capital city.

"It is a mad decision and Jagan will have to pay a heavy penalty," Mr Naidu told the Hindustan Times.

"Yes, my dream is completely shattered because of a mad decision taken by an insane person.

"The people have not given him the power to change the capital. We had chosen Amaravati not because we had the power. After the bifurcation (of the state into Andhra Pradesh and Telengana), we needed a capital city of our own and we selected Amaravati as the capital city after studying all aspects.

"It was endorsed by everybody and it was a collective decision. Now, how can you go back? What is the problem?"

The Reddy-led government, after coming to power in May, constituted a six-member expert committee in September to study the issue of the new capital and work on the concept of decentralised development.

The panel, comprising urban planning experts, suggested that three capital cities be developed.

The report has triggered unrest among farmers in 29 villages of Amaravati who had given 33,000 acres of land in 2015 for the development of the state capital.

They are staging daily protests, demanding that the government drop the three-capital proposal and develop the capital in Amaravati as planned by the previous TDP government.

The farmers have also approached the High Court, challenging the government's proposed move.

"When then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu appealed to farmers to give their lands for building the capital, I was reluctant because I was not sure what would happen if there was a change of government," said farmer Koteshwar Rao, whose family gave 15 acres.

"However, when Jagan Mohan Reddy as the then leader of opposition announced in the assembly that he wholeheartedly supports Amaravati as the capital, I agreed."

Today, he regrets his decision.

"I gave the land hoping that by selling part of the developed plots promised by the government I will buy a flat and ensure higher education for my daughter," he said.

"I also wanted to purchase an alternate land nearby for cultivation, but all my hopes have now been dashed."

There were many like Mr Rao who were reluctant to part with their lands. However, they were convinced by ministers and officials, referring to Mr Naidu's track record as the architect of Cyberabad, the information technology hub in Hyderabad, when he was the chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh.

With nine theme cities and 27 townships, Amaravati was planned to be built in 217 square kilometres as a world-class city.

The Singapore government had made a free master plan for the capital region and the capital city.

It was designed not merely as an administrative capital but also as an economic and job creating hub and tourism centre.

Following the protests, the state cabinet last Friday deferred a final decision on the capital and decided to constitute a high-power committee to study the report of the expert committee.

On Sunday, the government issued orders constituting a 16-member panel, comprising ministers and top officials. Chief Secretary Nilam Sawhney will be the convener.

The panel will submit its report in three weeks.

Indo-Asian News Service

"It was endorsed by everybody and it was a collective decision. Now, how can you go back? What is the problem?"

- Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu


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