Will Andhra Pradesh's long yearning for capital city end now?
What happens if Lady Luck smiles on someone? One gets what one wants and more
It's very unlikely that the judiciary will create any hurdles as the power of setting up a new capital city rests with the State government. Judiciary's sole focus will be on the interests of farmers, who sacrificed their fertile lands for Amaravati. If the State government convinces the judiciary with its plans on how it will take care of the interests of farmers, the judiciary will give a go-head for three capitals, if not today, a few weeks later
What happens if Lady Luck smiles on someone? One gets what one wants and more. For instance, people of Andhra and Rayalaseema regions have been yearning for a capital city of their own for the past several decades. They lost Chennai when Andhra State carved out of Madras State in October 1953.
They experimented with Kurnool as capital city, but left it in favour of Hyderabad when the Telangana region was merged with Andhra State to form Andhra Pradesh three years later. And they lost Hyderabad when Telangana was divided from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014.
Subsequently, TDP president Nara Chandrababu Naidu, who came to power in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, planned a massive Greenfield capital city, Amaravati, near Vijayawada. Farmers in that area contributed more than 34,000 acres of land for the proposed capital city with a hope that a world-class city would come up in their midst. But YSRCP president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who came to power with a massive mandate in 2019, discarded Amaravati capital plans, saying the Greenfield capital would require massive amounts of investments which Andhra Pradesh, being haunted by fiscal deficit, could not afford at this juncture.
But YS Jagan, the young Chief Minister, surprised everyone by announcing three capital cities. That means people of Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, who struggled to have a single capital city of their own for a long time, are going to have three capital cities instead, with the administrative decentralisation at its core! So, the Lady Luck has finally smiled on them.
Going by the prevailing circumstances and the way things are moving now, Andhra Pradesh is likely to find a permanent solution to its long-pending capital issue soon if there are no more surprises. With legislative hurdles for the proposed three capitals cleared now, the Andhra Pradesh government will have to get the judicial stamp on it. However, it's very unlikely that the judiciary will create any hurdles as the power of setting up a new capital city rests with the State government. Judiciary's sole focus will be on the interests of farmers, who sacrificed their fertile lands for Amaravati. If the State government convinces the judiciary with its plans on how it will take care of the interests of farmers, the judiciary will also give a go-head for the three capital cities, if not today, a few weeks later.
Therefore, it will not be long before Chief Minister YS Jagan will go ahead with his ambitious plan of developing the coastal city of Visakhapatnam as Executive Capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati as Legislative Capital and Kurnool as Judicial Capital.
But the key question here is which of three capital cities will develop faster? The answer is obvious. The coastal city of Visakhapatnam will develop faster. Being the Executive Capital of AP, the coastal city will be the de facto capital city for the State as day-to-day administration operates from there.
Frankly speaking, Visakhapatnam is an ideal city as capital. It has all the ingredients to become one. It's the biggest city in Andhra Pradesh and fourth largest one after Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in South India. Further, developing capital infrastructure in Vizag doesn't require tonnes of money. So, the coastal city should have gotten the first priority when the Andhra Pradesh government decided on the location of its capital in 2014. But the coastal city missed the honour then.
Ideally, Andhra Pradesh should have a single capital city as the lack of a big metropolis is a big drawback for it. If it has a single capital city, development in that city will take place at a faster pace. Further, all organs of the government will be located at a single location, thus reducing delays in the administrative process. It can still decentralise the development by taking up industrial projects in other promising cities and areas. But that is not going to happen now thanks to three capitals' plan.
However, future will decide whether YS Jagan's decision to go for multiple capitals is right or wrong as the evolution of a capital city or capital cities is a longer process as it takes decades to build a big city.
More so in the case of a capital city or capital cities as such cities, being seats of power or administrative processes, embody several distinct features.
However, YS Jagan's plan for three capitals also has several advantages. With three capitals located in three different regions of the State, Andhra Pradesh will be able to immune itself from future demands for separate States. But creating three capitals will not be enough. The government should also take steps to develop all the three cities. A balanced development across all three capitals is essential. For instance, the AP government can use the massive 34,000-acre land bank in Amaravati, now at its disposable, to develop the area as an educational and industrial hub. Vijayawada-Amaravati-Guntur belt could become a commercial hub as well. Further, the presence of judiciary will not be enough for Kurnool. Industries should also be developed there.
But if Jagan succeeds in implementing his plan for three capitals, and showcases positive benefits of it on the ground, the multiple capital cities model will have political ramifications in many big States of India. It is said that Tamil Nadu may take cue from Andhra Pradesh and go for a second capital city to reduce pressure on Chennai and decongest it. Late MG Ramachandran, founder of AIADMK and the three-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, first mooted the idea of a second capital and rooted for Tiruchirappalli or Trichy in 1983. This idea is likely to come back into focus in the upcoming Assembly elections slated to take place in 2021.
If we delve deep, YS Jagan's decision to discard Amaravati Greenfield capital seems to be a blessing in disguise now. The Covid-19 pandemic has been taking a heavy toll on the country's economy and the GDP growth is likely to slip into the negative territory for the first time in four decades. It will take a couple of years or more for the country to come out of this economic mess. Andhra Pradesh is no different.
Further, the real estate sector in India is in dire straits. Hyderabad's real estate sector, which bucked the national trend and logged phenomenal growth in the last three years, also slipped into a temporary coma triggered by the Chinese-born novel coronavirus. In this backdrop, developing Amaravati Greenfield capital is impractical now as it's inextricably linked to the real estate investments. That way, the YS Jagan government can heave a sigh of relief for opting for Visakhapatnam as Executive Capital as it can create capital infrastructure there with minimum funds.