By proposing three capital cities for Andhra Pradesh — Amaravati, Visakhapatnam and Kurnool — the Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy appears to be offering a please-all solution to the capital woes but critics have dubbed it as “empty tokenism and impractical idea fraught with administrative nightmare.”
While replying to a debate in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday (December 17), Jagan indicated that the State could have three capitals for decentralised development —Executive Capital in Visakhapatnam, Legislative Capital in Amaravati and Judicial Capital in Kurnool.
While the port city of Visakhapatnam, the largest in the state, is located in north coastal region, closer to Odisha, Kurnool is in the backward Rayalaseema region and Amaravati, the dream capital envisioned by the former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, is located in the prosperous south coastal belt in Vijayawada-Guntur region.
The idea of having three capital cities, which are located at nearly 400 km from each other, will throw up a plethora of administrative, economic and logistic challenges, though the objective of the government appears to be to keep people of all the three regions happy.
The crux of the argument put forward by the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues is that a decentralised approach, instead of concentrating all the resources on one city, would ensure regional balance and lead to equitable development of the State. A cluster of capital cities, drawing from the unique strengths of the respective regions, would meet the aspirations of the people and ensure all-round development of the State, it is argued.
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An expert committee, headed by retired IAS officer G N Rao, is expected to submit its report to the government on new urban policy including the location of the capital city next week.
However, even before the committee could submit its report, the Chief Minister gave an indication of his government’s thinking on the matter.
As expected, Amaravati will now be scaled down in its scope and confined to hosting assembly sessions, a far cry from the grandiose plans envisioned by the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government which had invested much political capital on brand building and positioning it as an ultramodern riverfront capital city.
In a state where politics is largely driven by caste dynamics, the choice of Amaravati in Vijayawada-Guntur region as the new capital was seen as a “gift” to Kammas, a dominant community in the region to which Naidu belongs. The politically influential Reddy community, which Jagan hails from, is mostly concentrated in the backward Rayalaseema region where there has been growing public resentment and a sense of neglect.
By opting for a cluster model of multiple capital cities, the YSR Congress Party government wants to address the concerns of the backward regions of the state and position itself as a champion of equitable development.
If the present government’s plans fructify, Amaravati will only end up hosting two or three assembly sessions every year while the focus will shift to Visakhapatnam, the seat of administration.
There has been a growing demand in Rayalaseema region for locating High Court in Kurnool. In fact, Kurnool was the capital of Andhra for a brief period from 1953 to 1956 before Andhra was merged with Hyderabad State to become Andhra Pradesh, the country’s first linguistic State.
South African model
During the assembly debate, Jagan made a forceful plea to replicate South African model of having multiple capital cities. South Africa has three capitals — Pretoria, the administrative capital, Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.
“Visakhapatnam, which has the infrastructure, can be considered for the executive capital without much investment, while Amaravati can be retained as the legislative capital and Kurnool can be considered as the judicial capital. This will give a balanced development,” he said.
A reputed consultancy firm would be engaged to work out details and logistics of the capitals. A final decision will be taken after going through the report of the consultancy firm, the Chief Minister said.
Flaying the “lop-sided priorities” of the previous TDP government and the hype that it had created around Amaravati, he said, “They had projected it as a dream capital at a cost of ₹1.09 lakh crores but spent only ₹9,000 crore. Where will we get the money from? Is it justified? The whole process was riddled with corruption, nepotism and criminal breach of trust. I would rather spend the money on welfare programmes that will directly benefit the poor.”
“We need ₹60,000 crore to provide water to the Rayalaseema region, ₹16,000 crore for taking Polavaram water to north Andhra and ₹40,000 crore for the drinking water grid. For the education sector, we need ₹29,000 crore. Since our priorities are so different and aimed at welfare, we have to consider if spending Rs 1.09 lakh crore is necessary for one capital city,’’ Jagan argued.
The ruling YSRCP leaders have been alleging that there was “insider trading” in Amaravati when the TDP leaders had purchased large tracts of land at cheaper rates in 2014 before the announcement on the location of the capital city by Chandrababu Naidu government.
The TDP president has dubbed the Chief Minister’s proposal as impractical. “How can there be three capital cities for a state? Where does Jagan live – Visakhapatnam or Amaravati or Kurnool? Should people run from one region to another region for their works? Such decisions only prove that this is a Tughlaq regime,” Naidu said.
Taking exception to Jagan making a statement in the assembly even before an expert committee gave its report, the former Chief Minister said, “He is destroying the state with his thoughtless and unilateral decisions.”
The urban planning experts have also questioned the rationale behind a smaller state like AP going for three capital cities. “It will lead to a lot of administrative problems. Every time there is an assembly session, the entire administration will have to move to Amaravati. Similarly, the officials will have to make rounds to Kurnool, which is more than 750 km away from Visakhapatnam, to attend to court cases,” said Vishweshwar Reddy, an urban planner.
“This multi-city model is a mere tokenism, just like having five Deputy Chief Ministers representing different communities but with no real powers. It will throw up several problems and makes coordination among different wings of the government very difficult,” said political analyst and commentator Ramesh Kandula.
“There is no comparison between South Africa and an Indian State, given our democratic character. Having multiple capital cities will lead to unnecessary recurring expenditure,” said Dr K Nageshwar, political analyst and former head of the Journalism Department, Osmania University.
Disagreeing with the argument that establishing three capital cities would lead to decentralisation, he said, “Decentralised development is different from decentralising the administration. It is illogical to have secretariat and assembly in separate cities.”’s please-all solution to capital woes; Tokenism or equitable development?