Two years ago, weeks after winning the Andhra Pradesh assembly elections, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy announced a rollback of the greenfield capital city, Amaravati, that his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu had launched in 2015, soon after the state lost its capital, Hyderabad, to Telangana after bifurcation.
Instead, Reddy mooted a plan to develop three capital cities — a legislative headquarters in Amaravati, a centre for the bureaucracy in Visakhapatnam, and the high court in Kurnool. The move disrupted investment plans running into millions and involving agencies such as the World Bank and triggered protests by farmers who had given land for the capital as per a pooling arrangement with the government. On Monday, the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly passed the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Repeal Bill, 2021, which aims to repeal the earlier laws made by the state legislature to facilitate the three-capitals plan. The Reddy government has declared it will bring in a new bill though it has not yet clarified whether it will stay with the three-capital plan or revert to Amaravati as the sole capital. This is an opportunity for the government to abandon the three-capital plan and focus on building Amaravati.
The Reddy government has offered mainly two arguments to support its three-capital plan. One, the Naidu government flouted laws and procedures while acquiring land for the capital city and planning its development. Two, a decentralised model of government alone can address the regional disparities plaguing the new state. In the first case, the administration can surely investigate deficiencies in contracts if there are any, rectify them and move forward. As for the laudable goal of having a decentralised government, it does not call for three capitals, an idea that could lead to wastage of resources and turn into a logistical nightmare. A compact, well-planned capital city with modern infrastructure can help different arms of the state to share resources and maximise use. Prudent disbursal of capital and human resources and decentralised planning with the involvement of local population is sufficient to avoid the perils of over centralisation of government.
The government’s present decision presumably has been influenced by two parallel developments: One, the progress of legal cases against the three-capital plan in Andhra Pradesh High Court, and two, an ongoing mobilisation by farmers, who had contributed land for the building of Amaravati. The government must strive for an early closure in the matter so that further cost overruns can be avoided and the state can have a new capital.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 25, 2021 under the title ‘Capital cost’.