Updated: January 23, 2020 8:11:04 am
In 2009, fantasy writer China Miéville bowled over readers with The City and the City, set in two metros which exist in each other’s space — and there are rumours of a third city hidden in the interstices. Now, in Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy has green-lighted a story just as fantastical — the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Bill sets the stage for three capitals. While Miéville’s cities intrigued by violating geometry to share the same space, Reddy’s scheme baffles because of the distances involved. The executive capital, Visakhapatnam, is 700 km from Kurnool, the judicial capital, and 400 km from Amaravati, the legislative capital, which is 370 km from Kurnool. By Euclid’s principles, the day-to-day business of government in Andhra Pradesh is about to become a logistical nightmare.
While the Mughals and the Raj had contented themselves with two seasonal capitals, to protect top officials from extreme weather, geographically splitting the arms of government has not been attempted before. The government argues that the idea of decentralisation dates back to the Sri Bagh pact of 1937, and that the development of Hyderabad into an IT hub rivalling Bangalore by N Chandrababu Naidu has starved other regions of the state of development. The Justice BN Srikrishna Committee of 2010 and the K Sivaramakrishnan Committee of 2014 had suggested more even development. The GN Rao Committee of 2019 suggested three capitals and the Boston Consulting Group had recommended the locations. The government also argues that officials could easily travel to Amaravati to brief ministers when the legislature is in session. However, they would have to stay put there for the duration, abandoning their day-to-day duties in Visakhapatnam. Meanwhile, police officers would have to travel from their headquarters in Mangalagiri to the secretariat in Visakhapatnam. And since much of important litigation involves the administration and the police, everyone would have to travel regularly to Kurnool. The travel bill would be steep, and the inefficiencies generated by the system would rapidly erode possible gains in decentralised development.
This illogical scheme may be explained by political rivalry. In 2015, N Chandrababu Naidu, the first chief minister of divided Andhra Pradesh, had laid the foundations for a new capital in Amaravati in the presence of the prime minister and the vice president. However, the scheme faltered for lack of central support and when Reddy’s YSR Congress swept to power, the three-capital theory replaced it. If the intention was to dilute Naidu’s idea of Amaravati — itself an inefficient choice, since well-developed Vijayawada is nearby — satisfaction will come at an exorbitant cost. Reddy should use his energies in dealing with farm distress, the issue that had swept him to an absolute majority last year.
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