The Andhra Pradesh government’s plan to have three capitals has run into a hurdle with the legislative council deciding to refer it to a select committee.
The introduction of the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020, witnessed acrimony and pandemonium in the council, dominated by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), since Tuesday (21 January).
The Decentralisation Bill provides for the creation of three capitals in Andhra Pradesh with Visakhapatnam functioning as the executive capital, Kurnool as judicial capital and Amaravati as the legislative capital.
Along with the Decentralisation Bill, the council also referred another bill to repeal the AP Capital Region Development Authority Act, 2014, to the select committee.
Referring the issue to a select committee means there would be further delay in the plans of Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. On Wednesday (22 January), pandemonium prevailed in the council before the bills were referred to the select committee.
The ruling YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh has only nine members in the 58-member upper council, leaving it at the mercy of TDP.
On Tuesday (21 January), the TDP gave a notice under Rule 71 to move a motion “disapproving the policy of the Government” with regard to establishing three capitals.
Council Chairman M A Shariff allotted two hours for discussion of the TDP motion despite protests from state ministers. He said the Decentralisation Bill, passed by the legislative assembly on Monday (20 January), could be taken up later.
With the Decentralisation Bill being referred to a select committee, it might put pressure on the YSR Congress government to respond to questions on the feasibility of having three capitals that have remained unanswered till now.
It is likely that the bill will get the required approval from both houses but Andhra Pradesh’s plan to have three capitals are being questioned.
The YSR Congress has been against establishing Amaravati as a full-fledged capital right from the beginning, though the TDP government headed by N Chandrababu Naidu tried its best to set it up during its 2014-19 regime.
After YSR Congress came to power under Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, it made clear that it did not want a capital city coming up at a huge expenditure, neglecting other regions of the state.
The ruling YSR Congress pointed to the Sri Bagh Pact, signed on 16 November 1937 between leaders of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema to strengthen its argument. According to the pact, two universities would come up in the state in Visakhapatnam and Anantapur.
The agreement stipulated that the High Court and a metropolitan city could come up in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra.
Also, the K Sivaramakrishnan Committee, which looked to identify a place for the Andhra Pradesh capital, recommended decentralised development in August 2014. It also recommended against a full-fledged mega capital city.
The Justice B N Srikrishna Committee, which was set up to consider the demand for a separate Telangana state, in its report in December 2010 blamed concentration of development efforts in Hyderabad for the economically backward status of Rayalaseema and north coastal Andhra. He said this was the main reason for the demand for a separate Telangana.
After coming to power, the YSR Congress Party set up a committee under retired bureaucrat G N Rao to look into the issue of the capital. The committee favoured a balanced growth of the state through three capitals and also the setting up of regional commissionerates as in Karnataka.
Following this, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government asked global management consultant Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to give its recommendations. BCG came up with its recommendations early this month upholding the arguments for three capitals.
BCG said the Governor, the Chief Minister, and all government departments could be accommodated in Visakhapatnam, Kurnool could host the High Court and tribunals, while the assembly can function from Amaravati.
Opposition parties led by the TDP and other experts have raised certain issues with regard to the three capitals proposals and the Jagan Mohan Reddy government has not come up with convincing responses.
One, the distance between Visakhapatnam, Amaravati and Kurnool is considerable. A person has to cover 400 km to reach Amaravati from Visakhapatnam, while the distance from Visakhapatnam to Kurnool is 700 km. From Amaravati, Kurnool is 370 km away.
It will take considerable amount of time to cover these distances and huge costs are also involved since the government staff will be criss-crossing the three capitals.
So, if a court official has to visit the secretariat in Visakhapatnam or vice-versa, he/she will have to travel 700 km. Similarly, those based in Amaravati will have to travel some 400 km.
Critics of the government’s move to set up three capitals say that the Jagan Reddy government has neither come up with concrete plans for such travels nor has he planned the logistics for these.
Again, secretariat officials will have to be present at Amravati during legislative assembly sessions to brief ministers on issues that need to be handled immediately or raised by members.
Again, there are no explanations on how their other responsibilities at the secretariat will be handled when they will be in Amaravati during assembly sessions.
On the other hand, the government argues that its officials can go to the capitals where they are required as and when the need arises.
The YSR Congress government also says that it need not construct buildings in Visakhapatnam as there are adequate offices available in the coastal city.
For government employees shifting to Visakhapatnam and requiring houses, the state plans to offer them lands at subsidised rates.
Political analysts say that the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister wants to deny his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu the credit of creating a mega capital. In addition, he also wants to do something for Kurnool, from where the YSR Congress gains strength.
The Naidu government had pooled 33,000 hectares from farmers for constructing a mega capital city at Amaravati but Jagan Reddy has alleged insider trading in the purchases of land.
The Chief Minister has now ordered a probe into the land deals, but the affected farmers are up in arms, agitating over the cancellation of the plans to set up the capital.