New AP government needs to redraft approach to development

New AP government needs to redraft approach to developmentNew AP government needs to redraft approach to development

Though the new, truncated Andhra Pradesh is five years old, its fresh leadership is just a few weeks old. As...

Though the new, truncated Andhra Pradesh is five years old, its fresh leadership is just a few weeks old. As the State embarks on its journey to further progress, it will be a lost opportunity if it shies away from a new approach to its development story i.e., sustainability.

By now, there is a general consensus among the countries - developed and developing - that we ought to achieve our growth and development needs without compromising the ability of our future generation to meet theirs, though we have a long way before achieving this. This calls for a major overhaul of how we perceive growth and what we consider development.

May it be building physical infrastructure - roads, railway lines, ports and the whole network to support transit system, communication, water and sewage systems, energy, distribution system and other utilities, housing and other services; or may it be its approach towards key sectors like agriculture and industry, or may it be its design to develop human capital - the State is presented with an array of opportunities to employ a sustainability approach.

Especially it is important as the new capital region is 'still' under making and the proposed division of the State into several more districts is soon going to be a reality.

In the last five years, in the pretext of building a new capital region, a serious dent had been made to the State's exchequer, time and effort and most importantly severe damage (and potentially more in the coming years) to the local ecosystem.

So far, capital city area had been planned to be built in a sprawling 217 sq km in Thullur, Mangalasgiri and Tadepalli mandals of Guntur district. According to the government, almost 14,000 hectares of land had been acquired in these three mandals. According to Guntur district Handbook of Statistics, 70 percent of this land is of fertile black cotton soil.

In each of these mandals, less than 3 percent of the land is barren. This is in contrast to what has been conveniently reported as dry land in the land acquisition documents by the government. On the contrary, almost 80 percent of this cultivable land grows food crops and most of the land is cultivable all 365 days a year.

Equally grotesque is the obvious lack of understanding of the ecosystem before planning such an enormous structure. By now, the environmental damage this massive structure might bring is well discussed and dissent was registered. In response, National Green Tribunal gave a 'go ahead' provided the work will not alter, embankments or courses of the river and the micro-ecology. It is hard to imagine how mowing down 25 villages would not affect the micro-ecology. Equally laughable is the idea that a few curated landscapes would compensate for a large-scale excavation of 41.5 million cu.m of land and green cover.

This is a blow to the local economic system too. The State reports that 28,400 farmers have 'voluntarily' pooled land for the capital city area. In other words, 28, 400 farming households are landless and skill-less to be engaged in any economically productive activity. In the three mandals in question, farming households are largely marginal and small holdings.

More than 95 percent of the land holdings are less than 5 hectares and they account for more than 80 percent of the total cultivable land. In other words, we are talking about the households that have limited endowments outside land holdings, limited or no alternative skills to be engaged elsewhere.

The said land produces a variety of crops - rice, maize, and other pulses, condiments like chillis and turmeric, vegetables and non-food crops, especially cotton. While the scale of loss of agriculture produce is evident, its impact on associated economic activities is also significant. For example, 10 percent of the rural-based informal enterprises in the district of Guntur are food processing units.

Due to their proximity, these units largely depend on the product that comes from the local cultivable lands. Now with the raw material gone, it is not difficult to imagine the survivability of these units or the labour involved. No agriculture activity means no more demand for non-farm agriculture services like making and repairing of agriculture implements like sickles, ploughs, carts, no demand for other trade and services that strive on and cater to the socio-economic specificities of the local population.

This is just the tip of an iceberg. The associated economic distress may be accompanied by unrest due to displacement, increase in inequalities and crime and shattered sense of communities.

There is no doubt that a new State needs a new capital city. Given what has been planned for such an endeavor, it is a sigh of relief that it is nowhere near finished. This leaves a lot of scope to undo, revise and improve on the present plan. Naidu's regime spent all its efforts to make an expensive but a sinister monstrosity.

The new government, which proclaimed a fresh outlook for development, should approach this unfinished Frankenstein monster cautiously. Jagan's government got a chance to redraft the approach towards capital city and the associated ecosystem, to be mindful that the economic growth of the region is closely associated and dependent on this system; to sincerely acknowledge that long-term welfare of the society has got nothing to do with swanky structures but everything with sustainable practices.

Functionality over grandeur is an ideal approach for building a new capital city. Sustainable architecture, sustainable energy systems, infrastructure accommodating local natural capital, improvement and preference to the public transport system, sustainable water supply, and usage methods are a few ways to arrive at a 'smart' city that we were all promised.

Preserving the environment on one hand and promoting a just society on the other, Jagan Mohan Reddy got a chance to amalgamate these two into his new capital city. The same cannot be said for any other statesman in the present times.

-Sravanthi Choragudi

(The writer is Research Associate, Divecha Centre

for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Views expressed are personal)

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