A Heart Hyderabad: A city in the middle of the Telangana tussle

The ugly scenes in Parliament last week involving MPs of Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana Bill boil down to the issue of Hyderabad.

Updated: February 16, 2014 9:45:46 am
At least 14 Assembly constituencies in and around Hyderabad are inhabited by a large population of Seemandhra people. At least 14 Assembly constituencies in and around Hyderabad are inhabited by a large population of Seemandhra people.

The ugly scenes in Parliament last week involving MPs of Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana Bill boil down to the issue of Hyderabad. Sreenivas Janyala explains why.

It was one of the most dramatic days even the most disruptive Parliament session in India’s history had seen. On February 13, MPs agitating against Telangana broke glass items, flung computers, allegedly brandished a knife and sprayed pepper from cans, sending colleagues to the hospital sneezing, coughing or with their eyes watering. If at the centre of this political theatre lay a state about to be bifurcated, nowhere do the divisions or emotions run higher than in a city that finds  itself sandwiched between the two — Hyderabad.

One aspect of it is shrewd economics. Many of the politicians, actors, hoteliers, doctors, academicians and builders who have invested in the city, including the main characters in last week’s Parliament pepper storm, are from Seemandhra — the term used for the regions Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, which will remain a part of Andhra Pradesh, once Telangana is carved out of it.

The other is the bigger question which nobody wants to answer now publicly, but is weighing heavy on minds — 10 years later, when Hyderabad ceases to be the joint capital, which other city can serve as its replacement for Seemandhra?

Lagadapati Rajagopal, the Congress MP from Vijayawada who sprayed pepper and broke a glass item on a table in the Lok Sabha just before the Bill to create Telangana was to be tabled last week, has extensive business interests in Hyderabad. He owns the

Rs 15,000-crore Lanco Group of Companies which runs power projects, real estate ventures, sponge iron companies and civil works in the city. The Lanco Hills in Hyderabad is said to be Rajagopal’s dream project. With an investment of over $1.5 billion, it boasts of luxurious apartments, villas, office spaces, landscaped avenues, hotels, malls and shopping complexes.

The other MP who created a ruckus in the House, the TDP’s M Venugopal Reddy — he snatched the microphone of two other MPs and allegedly brandished a knife — too has business interests in Hyderabad. The MP from Narasaropet who has led the TDP’s anti-Telangana agitation is the director and promoter of the Ramky Group, which has invested in multi-crore real estate projects in Hyderabad and adjoining Ranga Reddy districts, infrastructure and pharma companies. Ramky is one of the leading groups building luxury apartments and villas in Hyderabad’s IT corridor, and has invested over Rs 1,000 crore in these projects. Sources say that Ramky has projects adding up to over Rs 9,000 crore in the Telangana region.

If both Rajagopal and Reddy are from Seemandhra, so are other powerful names in politics, films and business. TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, who is from Chittoor in the Rayalaseema region, owns the Heritage Foods chain of stores and property in Hyderabad. Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, MP from his native district Kadapa, also in Rayalaseema, owns properties all over Hyderabad and on its outskirts, including buildings, printing presses and TV studios.

Actor-turned politician K Chiranjeevi, Union Tourism Minister, is from West Godavari District in Coastal Andhra and owns numerous properties in Hyderabad’s elite Banjara Hills. The famous Ramoji Film City belongs to Ramoji Rao, who hails from Krishna district in Coastal Andhra.

G M Rao, whose GMR group built the city’s state-of-the-art Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, hails from Coastal Andhra’s Srikakulam district.

Some big names in the medical and pharma industry like Reddy Labs, Apollo Hospitals, and Kamineni Hospitals are all owned by people from Seeamandhra. The Telugu film industry, too, is centred in Hyderabad but dominated by people from Coastal Andhra.

While those from the Coastal Andhra region drew funds from the agricultural bounties of their region to invest in Hyderabad, those from Rayalaseema were backed by the mining magnates to help make the city a business hotspot.

The fear is that the businesses of people from Seemandhra will suffer once Telangana is formed, even if Hyderabad remains the joint capital for some time. The people of the other two regions believe that since Telangana people have long nursed the grudge that those from Seemandhra have enjoyed a lot of political clout all these years, cornering the business in Hyderabad, they might now “take revenge”. This revenge, it is feared, will take the form of the new government cancelling business licences, or taking land back — most of the land and properties are alleged to have been acquired dubiously or through government largesse at throwaway prices.

Such fears stem from Telangana leaders’ political rhetoric as well. Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrasekhar Rao often refers to Seemandhra people living in Hyderabad as “settlers” and coined the slogan “Telangana wale jaago, Andhra wale bhago”. Telangana leaders often say implicitly that once Telangana is created, all the “settlers” will have to go back to their native districts. Seemandhra leaders also fear that water disputes will soon arise as the two main rivers, Godavari and Krishna, flow through Telangana towards Coastal districts.

Those from Seemandhra call this grudge unfounded, adding that people from Telangana, on the other hand, have failed to use the opportunities in Hyderabad. They cite, as an example, the fact that most educational institutions in Hyderabad have only 10-12 per cent of students from Telangana, while 60-70 per cent are from Seemandhra and the rest from across the country. Also, 60 per cent of the 4 lakh people working in Hyderabad’s IT industry are from Seemandhra.

At least 14 Assembly constituencies in and around Hyderabad are inhabited by a large population of Seemandhra people. Districts adjoining Hyderabad such as Ranga Reddy, Medak, and Mahbubnagar are often referred to as mini-Andhra because 90 per cent of their residents are from Coastal Andhra.

“Most Seemandhra people have made Hyderabad their home and want to stay here only,” says Ashok Babu, president of the Seemandhra Employees Association. “They have sold off land and property in native districts and purchased the same in Hyderabad because they work and live here, their children study in schools or colleges here, and they have settled here for good.”

Hyderabad, once called the city of pearls, doesn’t have just history behind it. No city in Coastal Andhra or Rayalaseema matches Hyderabad in terms of the factors that contributed to the latter’s development. These include plenty of land on the outskirts, availability of water, and good weather. Of these, the large tracts of arid land around Hyderabad have been the most significant factor.

All the growth in the city has happened away from the original Nizami Hyderabad, which has seen negligible development in the last 20 years and a dwindling population. The new areas of Hyderabad have been drawn from four neighbouring districts— Ranga Reddy, Mahbubnagar, Medak and Nalgonda — where all of what makes this one of India’s fastest-growing cities have come up — the IT corridor, SEZs, investment parks, an international airport, and new townships.

“All development has happened in the suburban areas in neighbouring Ranga Reddy district, parts of which have been merged with the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. This area has seen 100 per cent growth in the last two decades. It was possible because of abundance of government land which is either waste or barren, so it could be easily given for development. This is not the case with any city in Coastal Andhra or Rayalaseema, where land is fertile and cultivated, and thus, not available for other activities,” says Dr C Ramachandraiah, a faculty at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Andhra Pradesh’s economy and it would be difficult to convince farmers to part with their lands for a new capital. Even if that happens, assuring a steady supply of water would be difficult, says Ramachandraiah. The two primary rivers, Godavari and Krishna, flow through Telangana towards Coastal Andhra. Godavari, flowing from Maharashtra, enters Telangana in Adilabad district.

Krishna enters Telangana in Mahbubnagar district. Seemandhra leaders fear that disputes will arise over sharing of waters of both these rivers as Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema districts will be at the mercy of Telangana for release of enough water to meet their requirements. In fact, Jagan Mohan Reddy has warned of water riots in the coming years.

The three possible contenders for a capital for the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh state are Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Ongole. Of these, the port city of Visakahapatnam seems to have the edge. The largest city after Hyderabad in undivided Andhra Pradesh, it has a well-developed infrastructure, an international airport, good rail connectivity, a fledgling IT industry, and four universities. But with the Bay of Bengal on one side, it can only be developed along the coast. Besides, the hills and forest areas around it will not allow for much expansion. The fertile land around it is quite expensive; in fact, last year, when there was talk about the city becoming the new capital, land prices rose suddenly. Dr C Ramakrishna, professor at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, feels that if politicians from the city show more will, a capital township can come up between the city and Vizianagaram town.

Teachers and students of Andhra University have been demanding that Visakhapatnam be made the capital of bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. “There is plenty of land available beyond the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park. It is a bit far from the main city of Visakhapatnam, but most of it is government land, so there is no need to acquire it. The National Highway 5 provides good access to that side too. The existing airport can also be expanded.

Like Hyderabad, it has a cosmopolitan culture due to the presence of Eastern Naval Command, steel plant, Vizag Port, and a booming pharma industry where people from all over the country work,” says Dr Ramakrishna.

Visakhapatnam may prove difficult to establish as an administrative capital for another reason: it is too far from Rayalaseema, and is some 1,000 km away from Anantapur, the region’s largest city.

Location-wise, Vijayawada scores better as it is in the middle of Coastal Andhra. It is also the most developed city after Visakhapatnam and an educational hub. However, while the Krishna river flowing through it gives it enough water, it leaves little scope to develop it as a capital. “Add to this, the exorbitant prices of agricultural land,” says an official at Vijayawada’s School of Planning and Architecture.

The third option is Ongole, which enjoys the advantages of vast stretches of government land, and central location in the bifurcated Andhra state — it is 260 km and 370 km from Kurnool and Anantapur, respectively in the Rayalaseema region. It is 300 km from Hyderabad, but quite far from the important northern districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam.

Besides, its infrastructure is not so developed, and land under cultivation around it may not be easy to acquire.

Interestingly, the state government last week suggested de-notification of large areas of forest and reserve forest land. This throws three other locations in the ring — Kakinada in East Godavari district in Coastal Andhra, and Vinukonda and Macherla in Guntur district of Coastal Andhra. According to Chief Secretary P K Mohanty, 1.5 lakh acres of contiguous land would be required to establish a new capital township.

“But it is a long-drawn process,” argues political commentator T Ravi. “The Centre will have to expedite clearances and permissions if forest land is to be used. There will be a lot of protests and concerns about damage to the environment.”

There is also the problem of water. For example, as Hyderabad expanded and population grew quickly, the local water sources proved inadequate and special arrangements had to be made to pump Krishna river water through pipelines. “A capital township will need millions of litres of water daily. Water may have to be diverted from other areas to the new capital to make it viable and sustainable,” says the official at Vijayawada’s School of Planning and Architecture.

The search for a new capital may also escalate into a row between Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema with leaders of both demanding that it be established in their region. There is already a growing demand in Rayalaseema that Kurnool be developed as the new capital. Kurnool served as the capital of the newly created Andhra State (from former Madras Presidency) between October 1, 1953, and October 31, 1956, before it was moved to Hyderabad.

However, given politics and business, Coastal Andhra carries an edge over Rayalaseema in the matter. Several powerful MPs, MLAs and political leaders who also have financial clout belong to four districts of Coastal Andhra — East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur. “They have considerable assets and interests in Vijayawada.

They will argue in favour of that city. However, Vijayawada cannot be expanded beyond a point,” says former member of Andhra Chamber of Commerce and Industry M Murli Krishna.

Ten years may not be sufficient time to decide a new capital, adds real estate developer Suryaprakash Reddy, as besides the mix of politics and business, comparisons with Hyderabad would complicate the matter. “Hyderabad,” he says, is the beacon for people of all three regions, attracting investments, skilled manpower and entrepreneurs.”

Jewel in the Crown

Hyderabad is the cash cow of Andhra Pradesh, contributing a little over 44 per cent of the state’s revenues. During discussions in the Assembly, a note from the Andhra Pradesh Finance Department was circulated which stated that the state’s revenue in 2012-13 was Rs 77,548 crore. Of this, Hyderabad and adjoining Ranga Reddy district contributed approximately Rs 34,300 crore. The rest of Telangana, excluding Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy, contributed Rs 21,358 crore while Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema contributed Rs 21,538 crore.

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