Capital punishment

As Andhra Pradesh chief minister pursues his obsession with building a world-class capital city, his land pooling method draws ire of farmers, conservationists

By M Suchitra
Last Updated: Tuesday 07 July 2015

Capital punishment

A village in the fertile Tullur block in Andhra Pradesh. Land from 25 such villages and four hamlets will be pooled in for the new capital

OVER A DECADE ago, during his two-term tenure as chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu had assiduously built up the image of Hyderabad as a globally known IT hub and one of the most sought after destinations for high-tech firms. Following bifurcation of the state in June 2014, the city has been serving as the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and will become Telangana’s in 10 years time. A bitter Naidu now wants his new capital to outsmart that of Telangana, or so it seems.

Ever since assuming office, Naidu has been pushing for laws, issuing notifications and holding meetings with international firms for establishing a glitzy world-class capital city from scratch, throwing all cautions and recommendations to the winds.

imageOn December 22 last year, the state assembly passed the highly controversial Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Bill, which will allow the government to easily assemble land of its choice for setting up the capital city. The Bill gives CRDA absolute power to acquire, sell, transfer, grant license or alienate the land belonging to the authority for the purpose of development or redevelopment of the land.

Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government has already chosen the most fertile belt along the Krishna river between Guntur and Vijayawada cities. On December 30, the government issued a notification identifying areas in Guntur and Krishna districts that will be part of the new capital. This includes 25 villages and four hamlets in Tullur, Tadepalli and Mangalagiri blocks of Guntur district that are known for round-the-year bumper harvests. “The government will pool 12,000 hectares (ha) from these villages to establish the core area of the capital,” says A Giridhar, principal secretary, Municipal Administration and Urban Development department (see map).

Analysts say the project will affect at least 100,000 people who depend on agriculture; 85 per cent of them are small farmers and landless farm labourers. Besides, no government has attempted “land pooling” on prime agricultural land in such a massive scale (see ‘Pooling folly’). Such large-scale land use change for urbanisation will lead to economic and environmental catastrophe.

“The government is going ahead with the greenfield project without holding any public debate or consultation,” alleges Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, former agriculture minister of the state. It has also ignored recommendations of the experts committee appointed by the Union Home Ministry to help the state select a site for its new capital. The committee, headed by former Union urban development secretary K Sivaramakrishnan, had cautioned against establishing a greenfield capital and diverting fertile farmland for the city. It had asked the state government to carry out a careful search for locations where government land is available.

Many farmers are up in arms against the project. In November 2014, a day before Naidu’s meeting with farmers of Nidamarru and Venkatapalem villages, women threatened to commit suicide if revenue officers do not go back. The women said they would not part with their land for Naidu’s dream capital.

Glitzy road to new capital

Naidu has chosen Singapore as the model for his new capital. “Singapore has shown the optimal use of its limited land resource,” says Giridhar. “Since we do not have much land, we want to follow the island country’s land use model. We have signed MoU with the government for developing the master plan of our new capital,” he informs. Some Singapore and Japanese firms have agreed to partner in the construction.

At 12,000 ha, the capital will be much bigger than either of Guntur or Vijayawada cities. Some political leaders claim that the capital region could span about 20,000 ha.

The government says its plan is to convert an agrarian economy into a throbbing urban agglomeration “full of life and economic activity”. “Land pooling will not evict people as happens in land acquisition. Instead, they will get developed plots that have much higher land value,” says Giridhar.

The government promises to provide 836 sq m of residential plot and 167 sq m of commercial land for every 0.4 ha of land farmers would lose. In fertile areas like Tullur, farmers will get an additional 84 sq m of commercial plot.

“The value of these plots would increase manifold by the time the capital becomes functional,” says Giridhar. To secure farmers’ earnings in the intervening period, the government plans to provide compensation for up to 10 years. Those owning rain-fed land will get Rs 30,000 a year with an annual increase of Rs 3,000, while those who own jareeb (alluvial soil) and grow multiple crops, will receive Rs 50,000 a year with an annual increase of Rs 5,000. Landless people will be given Rs 2,500 as monthly pension for 10 years.

imageWhile many farmers are lured by the plan, those in 10 villages located within two kilometres of the Krishna are opposing the project tooth and nail. These farmers grow commercially important crops such as banana, sugarcane, cotton, corn, maize, turmeric, guava, lime, chilli, different vegetables and flowers round the year and claim that theirs is a farmer’s paradise.

“We lead prosperous lives. You will never see our fields lying fallow,” says Mallela Seshagiri Rao, farmer and lawyer from Rayalpudi village in Tullur. He owns about 8 ha of fruit orchards which earn him Rs 15 lakh a year. “We just have to dig 6 m to get water for irrigation,” says Sri Sambiah who owns two hectares in Mandada village. “We have seen bountiful harvests in times when other parts of the state reel under drought.”

“In fact, all the villages identified for the capital region have a vibrant agricultural economy of Rs 1,000 crore a year with established farm-to-market linkages,” says M G Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer who was the administrator-cum-estate officer of Chandigarh Capital Project. In December last year, he led a fact finding team of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) to these villages. The region has a rich biodiversity with 120 crop species.

The government’s emphasis on land-pooling seems to be a systematic attempt to avoid compensation to the entire sections of people engaged in agricultural labour and related occupations, says B Ramakrishnam Raju, national convenor of NAPM. Under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, every person whose livelihood is impacted by the project should be duly compensated before the government acquires land. Besides, the Land Acquisition Act prohibits acquisition of irrigated, multi-crop land even for public purpose. Under the Act, such land can be acquired only when there is absolutely no alternative, he points out.

Farmers say they are under tremendous pressure to part with their land. TDP leaders and ministers regularly visit their villages and ask them to agree for land pooling. The villagers allege that they are hooked under false police cases as a fear tactics. Realtors and investors are also coaxing farmers to sell land and are agreeing to pay over Rs 1 crore an acre (0.4 ha)—this is more than double the rate a few months ago. NAPM’s fact finding team observed that in November alone more than 1,400 ha have been sold in the region. “All this has created uncertainty, confusion and fear among the residents,” says P Chenniah, member of NAPM’s fact finding team.

Economic, ecological losses

The capital extravaganza is taking place when the state faces financial crisis. Private agencies have submitted proposals of more than Rs 1 lakh crore, which means the cost of developing the capital would be much more. “The state does not have enough funds. We have requested help from the Centre and will depend on developers,” says Giridhar.

imageSuch an enormous scale of land-use conversion for urbanisation will lead to increased emissions. A city on the upper reaches of the Krishna will destroy the river and make the Krishna-Godavari region prone to flooding, says K Babu Rao, a scientist and member of NAPM’s fact finding team.

P Narayana, urban development minister who is part of the Capital Region Development Authority, claims that the plan was prepared after cabinet members visited other capitals, Naya Raipur, Gandhinagar and Chandigarh, to study land pooling. But experts say none of the cities have pooled fertile land. Daivasahayam says Chandigarh, India’s only greenfield capital, was developed only on 6,000 ha, that too on barren land. The city has evolved over six decades. Despite being the capital of two states, with good infrastructure, thousands of buildings, wide roads, vistas, valleys, lakes and garden, Chandigarh is yet to become a “throbbing urban agglomeration”. Gandhinagar took 20 years to grow to its present stage.

“The farmers who are being enticed with 836 sq m of developed plot should realise that an urban area takes several decades to develop and farmers will never get the promised profit from the plots,” says Daivasahayam. According to K Babu Rao, Naidu’s Singapore dream is nothing but an “ecological catastrophe”.

Pooling folly

Land POOLING is usually followed for developing urban slums. Under the process, small parcels of land are assembled in urban areas or in the outskirts without paying cash compensation to the owners. The owner is allotted a part of the "developed" plot with rights to sell it. The pooling authority retains a portion of the assembled land, uses part of it to develop civic amenities like roads, parks and garden, and the rest is put for public sale to recover the cost of development.


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  • As a self proclaimed ÔÇÿHi

    As a self proclaimed ÔÇÿHi TechÔÇÖ CM, it is sad to see Chandra Babu Naidu going the way of imagery and form (Singapore) rather than truly leveraging the potential of IT to the maximum and create a ÔÇÿsmartÔÇÖ networked virtual capital. He has also not given an opportunity to anyone to even think on these lines in an open and collaborative manner. At the end of the day, a capital is nothing more than an administrative centre albeit with a politico-cultural twist. Taking Singapore as a model of the new capital is way off the mark for more reasons than one. Firstly Singapore is a port city and it is an independent nation with a semi dictatorial political basis. It is a high energy city and has highly literate migrant population controlled thru visas unlike our cities.
    Building, esp high rises, on a river flood plain is a costly affair due to additional foundation and water proofing costs. The opposite bank being hilly and already developed, one would expect a high water table on this side, borne out by the lush crops.
    As the location is just upstream of the Prakasam Barrage, another concern is the rise of pollutants in the ponded water due to discharge of effluents thru overflows and leachates thru sub soil. Gradually as the new city grows and becomes more and more concretized, urban flooding becomes a reality especially when the river is swollen. I would not be surprised if CBN, like Sabarmati in Ahmedabad ponds the Krishna to maintain a constant water level by building another barrage further upstream of the capital. Other wise the fun of having a riverside city is lost when most of the year there are only sandy stretches and hardly any water. (Sabarmathi was once like this).
    There is no doubt that one of the major considerations in siting the capital is the locally strong ÔÇÿVaasthuÔÇÖ beliefs. With water to the north and river flowing west to east, it is considered auspicious and harbinger of good fortunes. Whether that good luck shines only on the rich and powerful who would inhabit ÔÇ£SingapuruÔÇØ or graces every citizen of the state, only time will tell.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • There is no option to choose

    There is no option to choose the rayalseema region,since it is a water deficit region it cant cater the population or capital and cant grow as a resilient capital in future. The present choice is inevitable, the result will not change even if the area is changed because entire andhra is a fertile region. enough compensation should be provided,some one has to sacrifice land otherwise its not possible to build a capital.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • There is also a need to focus

    There is also a need to focus on Food-security by utilizing our agricultural lands effectively rather than fighting in WTO to stop free-trade of food grains and also the we should consider the fact that the fertility of available land is degrading and the need to conserve the available wisely. In Rayalaseema region,esp.,Anantapur Dt, with literally no agriculture at all, declared a desert, you can build your capital there with minimum cost, no need for agriculture land wastage and also you can provide some employment for the people in one of the backward districts of the state and of India when considered.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • When technology and

    When technology and communication go together, why build all the departments/ arms of the State Govt.. at one place? 'Online' is the buzzword these days be it for training, shopping or video conferencing,
    Mass creation may give some benefits, it equally creates havoc on the nature nonetheless. If the Govt. is spread across the State, compensation package differs as it would not be the same for fertile and non-fertile lands, meaning cost reduction. Locals living there or outside will come forward with ideas, volunteering and to certain extent with finance too. Decisions taken in terms of area selection is the result of fancy ideas and showing off.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • With only 3% land available

    With only 3% land available in the world for agriculture,Telengana is lucky to have such a huge swath of arable land. Please do not destroy this as not only the fool will destroy the lives of million farmers, he will destroy the water of the sacred Krishna & Godavari. Also the methane content in the air will go up considerably. Just because Chabrababu is CM does not allow him to destroy peoples life. Find a alternate water deficit place or reduce land size to one fourth or better still, share Hyderabad.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • 1. Building a capital city

    1. Building a capital city from scratch an that in fertile agricultural land is stupidity.
    2. Taking one acre and giving back 1000 Sq. Yards of developed land elsewhere in the future and till then giving them Rs.30,000 per year to the farmers is cruelty.
    3. Ignoring a developed city like Vizag and concentrating all the Govt Offices and establishments at one place (which is yet to be built) is greed.

    All this is just because the CM, his relatives and a few other politicians have land in this Krisha - Guntur belt)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Keeping in view to achieve a

    Keeping in view to achieve a capital city like Singapore, natural and financial resources are being over-utilized. The economic and social circumstances of Singapore are completely different to that of Andhra pradesh. It is equally important to consider our financial deficit while planning a new capital city. Decentralized capital city model might work out in this case by reestablishing Vishakapatanam as an industrial hub, Vijayawada as administrative capital likewise. Existing towns like Tirupati can be developed as IT hubs which promotes balanced development on the other minimizes financial resources.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for sharing this. It

    Thanks for sharing this. It is absolutely idiotic to ruin proper agricultural villages to create another concrete mess such as Hyderabad. What does a capital need? A few administrative buildings.. why can't these be built just anywhere else? Creating a "city" ( I call them "shitty") near a river will absolutely destroy it and convert it into another Musi.

    Also, entire regions of Rayalaseema has lands that don't see a drop of rain, ever. Why aren't we thinking of establishing a capital there? Does CBN fear another state bifurcation in the future? If so, then it means that he's already not considering Rayalseema a part of the current AP state.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • It's the misfortune of the

    It's the misfortune of the people of AP to have a modern Tughlaq as CM, who has no democratic approach in deciding on such issues like A CAPITAL CITY etc.People in general are not in favour of spoiling the agricultural lands adjacent to the Krishna Reservoir, as the reservoir (meeting the water needs of the people in 3 to 4 districts) within 20 years would become like the present tank-bund in Hyderabad, with water highly polluted by the inflow of all effluents from the planned Capital region. All those supporting the Tughlaq CM now, will then realize the gravest mistake committed by them. But by that time, it will be too late for any correction. People must raise their voice now or try by filing cases in Supreme Court to stop this atrocious act of the present government. Otherwise, our next generation in that region will greatly suffer due to lack of drinkable water. Vegetables and fruits will become very costly even
    now itself as their growing activity stops in a very large area of land, that's already acquired.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply