The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Bill, 2020 has been introduced in the state assembly by the Jaganmohan Reddy-led government. The law provides for the state to create three capital cities instead of just one.
The bill also provides for dividing the state into various zones and establishing zonal planning and development boards.
According to the law, the three cities are, Amaravati – the legislative capital, Visakhapatnam– the executive capital, and Kurnool will be the judicial capital.
All major committees that were set up in aftermath of the bifurcation of the state to suggest a suitable location for the capital of Andhra Pradesh, including Justice B N Srikrishna committee, K Sivaramakrishnan committee, G N Rao committee, had emphasised decentralisation.
According to the Jaganmohan Reddy-led government, the three separate capitals will ensure the development of all parts of the state, instead of it being concentrated in the one capital city.
Andhra Pradesh would be the first state in independent India to have three capital cities. Some other states have two capitals.
Maharashtra has Mumbai as well as Nagpur as the capital cities. Himachal Pradesh has capitals at Shimla and Dharamshala, while the former state of Jammu and Kashmir had Srinagar and Jammu as capitals. The second capitals are used to hold the winter session of the assembly.
Many countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia also have two capitals.
It is also argued that with the government work distributed in three different cities, one capital city wouldn’t be overburdened with high population - that puts pressure on natural resources like water, air etc, as well as leads to unplanned expansion of the city.
While the thought behind the decentralised development is noble, its practical implementation is marred with challenges.
The first opposition to Jaganmohan’s plan came from the farmers who had given their farmlands for the capital at Amaravati.
In 2014, the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had justified his decision to locate the new capital in Amaravati by saying that it was at the centre for all three regions. At the time, Jaganmohan, as an opposition leader, had endorsed the Naidu government’s decision.
It was argued that Naidu had chosen Amaravati to benefit the Kamma community who have been identified with TDP since its formation. The community seems had heavily invested on lands in Amaravati region, and would be the first victim of the three-capital plan.
By targeting Kammas, Reddy may be striking at the financial power of TDP support base.
Jaganmohan’s plan now to go against one-capital decision is also earning accusations of vindictive politics, especially in the light of other decisions of the Jaganmohan government like demolishing Praja Vedika conference hall, reversing the tenders for the Polavaram project, reviewing power purchase agreements made at the time of TDP regime.
The decision taken by Reddy is also explained by the caste dynamics in the state, where the two dominant communities — Kammas and Reddys — compete for power.
Politics apart, the division of state functioning between three different cities will not only increase the government expenditure on simple formalities, but may also pose serious coordination challenges.
Executive capital Visakhapatnam is 700 km from judicial capital Kurnool, and 400 km from legislative capital Amaravati. The Amaravati-Kurnool distance is 370 km. The time and costs of travel will be significant.
The AP Police headquarter is in Mangalagiri, 14 km from Vijayawada, and senior IPS officers who may be required to visit the Secretariat will have to travel 400 km to Visakhapatnam. Similarly, government officers who may have to appear in the High Court will have to travel 700 km to Kurnool, which does not have an airport.
All officers and ministerial staff who may have to be at hand to brief Ministers when the Assembly is in session, will probably have to stay put in Amaravati, leaving behind their other responsibilities in Visakhapatnam.
Also, the three capital formula still leaves the people of the south coastal districts, comprising East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur and Prakasam districts, with the distinct feeling of having been left out.
The experience not in India, but around the world shows that government distributing development as a matter of political patronage harms the goal of development.
It creates opportunities of corruption and rent-seeking, and pits one community against another for government money, while policies becomes unpredictable and susceptible to political strife.
The goal of equal development of all regions, as well as establishing zonal planning and development boards is laudable. Much depends on how much power and capacity these bodies end up having in reality. There are chances that such bodies end up with little in their hands like local self government bodies.
The Andhra Pradesh government could have focused on governance, regulatory reforms as well as public infrastructure, instead of taking the costly decision of building three-capitals.
Meanwhile, the bill introduced by Jaganmohan Reddy government will face serious challenge in the upper house dominated by TDP.