Amaravati: A dream capital or a pipedream?

Jaya Prakash Adusumilli

Amaravati: The festive air which announces the onset of monsoon is missing here. For the second consecutive year, farmers of Uddandarayunipalem, Lingayapalem and Thalayapalem have not celebrated Eruvaka, the festival where farmers symbolically sow nine different seeds (navadanya), decorate their bulls and ploughs, and pray for a good harvest.

The fields that should have been dotted with banana and sugarcane plantations, vegetables and flowers are lying fallow. All this, for a reason. The three villages will make up the core area of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s audacious dream — Amaravati, a spanking new capital for the State. 

The State government has pooled 33,000 acres of land from farmers of 29 villages, including the aforementioned three. “We made them partners in the capital project under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) by returning developed plots of 1,000 sq. yards for residential use and 250 sq. yards and 400 sq. yards for commercial use for farmers of dry and wet lands respectively [for every acre taken away],” says Naidu. The government even threw in an annuity of Rs.40,000 for 10 years for the early birds.

Thullur, the village first chosen for locating the core capital – the other two Mandadam and Uddandarayunipalem — is evidently among the earliest beneficiaries. Ninety per cent of the residents today live in double-storeyed buildings, in what was once a dusty hamlet. More than half of the households own a car. Three liquor shops have come up where there were none a year ago.

“We are happy. The capital project has changed our lives — and lifestyle,” says Ramesh, a farmer, as he washes his gleaming new Maruti Alto. He has parted with six acres under the LPS and bought four acres near Eluru in West Godavari district.

Critics have called the LPS a deception to escape from stringent provisions of the Land Acquisition Act. Naidu allegedly wooed the influential large farmers of the Kamma community, to which he belongs, to part with their lands, leaving hardly any choice for the small and marginal farmers.

There were threats to invoke the Land Acquisition Act and forcibly take away the land, which would have put farm owners at tremendous loss as they would have just got compensation for land based on government rates.

Activists Medha Patkar and MG Devasahayam of the National Alliance of People’s Movements have accused the state government of using the LPS, “meant to be voluntary”, to forcefully acquire land.

YS Jaganmohan Reddy, opposition leader, in the Legislative Assembly, calls the scheme “land fooling”. “What the government did was to take away large chunks of fertile land from farmers and pass them on to the corporates in highly questionable deals,” he alleges.

A concerted effort to downplay the downside is also on display as the government steamrollers ahead swallowing 33,000 acres of agriculture.

Picture this: In village after village, the vast expanse of fertile land on the Krishna river bank has nothing raised on it. Many of the 22,000 farmers who have given away farming land in these 29 villages under the LPS have no clue what the future holds for them barring the big farmers who have made a killing from the scheme.

Among the worst hit are thousands of agriculture labourers, dependent on farms for livelihood. The government is only willing to offer them a pension of Rs.2,500 a month. Tenant farmers do not figure in the scheme of things at all as they neither own any land to get developed plots nor do they want to get bracketed as labourers. Yet the government has been claiming that there will be no displacement and that the LPS has ensured a “win-win” situation.

The Chief Minister’s chosen site for the proposed new capital harks back to a revered past. Barely 25 km away from the core area of the in-the-works capital are the ruins of the ancient town of Amaravati, capital of the Satavahanas who ruled in the second century BC.

Statues from the Amaravati Mahachaitya, one of the biggest Buddhist stupas in Andhra Pradesh, are now star exhibits at the British Museum in London, and Naidu has been lobbying hard to get some of these back to be displayed at the existing museum here to leverage the rich history in promoting a “futuristic” Amaravati.

His choice has quite expectedly resulted in a real estate boom which threatens to swallow up its more renowned historical cousin. “Prices of land around Amaravati have soared — in some cases four times — following Naidu’s announcement. We get inquiries from people in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru who want to invest,” says Kondaveeti Srinivas, a real estate agent for two years now.

But on the ground, at Uddandarayunipalem, where the glitzy, ‘smart’ city will take shape, it’ll take a while for construction to commence. But a 3D model placed in the middle of the barren expanse, closely guarded by a police picket, gives a glimpse of Naidu’s dream: skyscrapers, roads, railway lines, flyovers and landmarks such as the Assembly, Raj Bhavan, High Court and Secretariat.

“I want it to be a world-class, grand and smart city. The vision for a city should be for 100 or even 1,000 years. You need to think big. The concept of a city has changed… I am not only competing with centuries-old Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai but also foreign cities. My capital city should be a cut above them to be a good investment destination,” Naidu had told The Hindu in a recent interview on completion of two years in office, when asked why he had gone in for 33,000 acres.

The Chief Minister is personally supervising the planning, design and execution of works and narrates with a flourish the beauty of his upcoming city to any visitor who cares to listen. He holds weekly meetings with his team comprising the Municipal Administration and Urban Development Ministry and Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRD) commissioner.

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