World-class fool­ish­ness

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

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - M SU­CHI­TRA |

Andhra Pradesh's chief min­is­ter pur­sues his dream of turn­ing Hy­der­abad into a world-class cap­i­tal city at the cost of farm­ers' liveli­hood and the en­vi­ron­ment

OVER A DECADE ago, dur­ing his twoterm 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.

On 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

"Land pool­ing will not evict peo­ple. They will get de­vel­oped plots with much higher land value"

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 30,000 a year with an an­nual in­crease of 3,000, while those who own ja­reeb (al­lu­vial soil) and grow mul­ti­ple crops, will re­ceive 50,000 a year with an an­nual in­crease of 5,000. Land­less peo­ple will be given 2,500 as monthly pen­sion for 10 years.

While 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 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 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 land­pool­ing 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 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 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.

Such 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”.

"Land pool­ing seems to be a sys­tem­atic at­tempt to avoid com­pen­sa­tion to all those en­gaged in agri­cul­ture and other ac­tiv­i­ties"

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

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