The capital of Andhra Pradesh is still anybody’s guess
By G.Krishna Mohan Rao*
The new capital city for the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh still remains a mystery even after more than seven years have passed. The fate of the present makeshift capital, Amaravati as the permanent capital hangs in balance since June 2014. The matters got further complicated this week, when Chief Minister Y. Jagan Mohan Reddy, on the last day of the budget session on Thursday, reaffirmed that there will be decentralised development in the state and hinted that Amaravati cannot be the state capital.
The strong statement by the Chief Minister on the floor was seen as a deliberate attempt in the backdrop of the recent AP High Court verdict in favour of the continuance of Amaravati as the capital of the residual state of AP. Not only was Amaravati as permanent capital, in fact, but the High Court also fixed six months’ time for the state government for handing over plots to the farmers who had given 32,000 acres of land for the new capital Amaravati.
Following the High Court judgement on March 4, 2022, in favour of Amaravati, the rattled Chief Minister Reddy took strong exception to the High Court verdict. Raising the issue on the floor of the Assembly he said “ the decision on the new capital is our right and responsibility because policymaking is the domain of the legislature”. Jagan Reddy rounded off the discussion in the house “that courts cannot pre-empt or direct to make a policy with presumptions and lay down impossible conditions “.
In other words, Jagan Reddy virtually challenged the decision of the High Court. Political circles are now waiting for the CM’s next move on the capital issue. Will he move Supreme Court to challenge the High Court decision? Or will he wait for some more time to build up public opinion against Amaravati as permanent capital? In fact, the High Court brushed aside the argument of the State government that three capitals would be set up for the purpose of decentralisation.
Following the judgement, the AP government led by Reddy informed the High Court that it would be withdrawing the Bill in the Assembly regarding the three capitals. It stated that it would come again with a new piece of legislation on three capitals as it was committed to decentralisation of administration.
It may be recalled that soon after the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR-CP) led by Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in the State in May 2019, they came up with the proposal of setting up three capitals: Amaravati (Legislature), Vishakapatnam (Executive and administrative capital) and Kurnool (Judiciary). The government had linked the issue of the three capitals with decentralisation. This official narrative was taken to people through huge publicity making the people think that three capitals were inevitable to take the fruits of development to even the backward and interior regions of the State.
Soon after the state was created in June 2014, the then ruling Telugu Desam Party led by Chandrababu Naidu preferred Amaravati (near Vijayawada city) as the new capital of the State. Amaravati being a strong bastion of the Telugu Desam Party, Jagan Reddy opposed the idea of Amaravati as the sole capital. As Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, he went on to suggest that the proposed capital site could be shifted to Donakonda of Prakasham district, which is nearer to the Rayalaseema region of the state.
With the result, a committee headed by Sivaramakrishnan was appointed to suggest a site for the construction of the capital. After the study, the committee recommended that Donakonda could be the final choice for new capital. The committee rejected the case for making Amaravati on the grounds that its loose and fertile soil would not be fit for the huge constructions required for a capital city.
However, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu rejected the recommendations of the Sivaramakrishnan Committee and said it is the state government’s prerogative to determine which place would be the capital city. Later, a foundation stone was laid for the new capital city of Amaravati by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Work for the new capital started with the local farmers giving their land for the capital and construction work started in and around Amaravati. Then came the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2019 and Jagan Reddy swept the polls in both Assembly and Lok Sabha.
Coming back to the present situation, sources say, that Chief Minister Reddy may not go to Supreme Court since his camp is not optimistic about getting a positive response from the Apex court. If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the AP High Court, then it will be a big blow to his government. So, they may choose to drag the issue for some more time.
The High Court observed that the State has no right to decentralisation of development and capital city, bifurcation or trifurcation, but it is in the purview of the Centre. Interestingly, the Centre on the contrary has given an affidavit that capital is a State subject and has also given a reply to a question asked by a TDP member in the Parliament quoting Article 3 of the Constitution.
*The writer is a senior journalist.