28th Jan. 2020, Vijayawada: National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has been engaged with the ‘capital city’ question in Andhra Pradesh ever since the bifurcation of the state in 2014 and has stood with the farmers and farm workers whose fertile lands were being ‘pooled’ and livelihoods destroyed for construction of the mega capital at Amaravati over a massive area of around 34,000 acres. We have also been constantly alerting the erstwhile government of the social, environmental and financial costs of the project, from the perspective of ensuring a more balanced and decentralized development model for the new state.
The issue has acquired a new dimension with the announcements of the present government regarding the capital. Ever since, we have been witnessing the agitations by the farmers over the past month, visited the protest areas and interacted with them on two occasions. The following are some of our observations and suggestions in the present context, considering the issues raised by the farmers as well as the broader interests of the state.
- The Report of Shivarama Krishna Commission, submitted to the Central Government in Aug. 2014 which tried to meaningfully address the many concerns raised was not tabled in the Assembly and, therefore, there was no discussion on the various possibilities of having a capital with a balanced approach. Instead, the former government went ahead and pooled the most fertile lands in the Krishna flood plains for construction of the capital. The people
of the state were made to believe that this ‘dream world-class capital city’ would cater to the manifold concerns of the entire state, at the cost of other developmental process.
- By circumventing the provisions of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act 2013 (LARR Act), the former government introduced a mechanism of ‘land pooling’ and entered into a process of ‘negotiation’ with the farmers, although the bargaining scales were clearly not titled in favour of the land-owners. Farmers were made to believe they would get windfall gains from 20 lakhs to 10 crores per acre over a period of one decade. The crisis today has its genesis in this extra-legal, reckless and short-sighted approach of the state. With the present government not inclined to pursue the ‘capital dream’ its predecessor, the farmers are now genuinely agitated that they have been meted out a raw deal in this entire bargain.
- The former government which is now trying to project itself as the ‘saviour of farmers’ blatantly violated the LARR Act 2013 by offering differential and discriminatory payments to patta and assigned land owners (mostly dalits) and completely depriving the tenant farmers of their livelihood rights. It also did not ensure annual increase in the allowances due to agricultural labourers, while offering the same to land owners. The government unilaterally went ahead with its decision without adequately and democratically consulting farmers and affected people and without making them equal partners in the capital building exercise. Notwithstanding all its rhetoric, the former Government did not ensure any representation of farmers and workers in the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), despite multi-crore land deals between farmers and the CRDA.
- As independent people’s movements, while we welcome the announcements of the present government to ‘decentralize’, governance and development, we are also concerned the approach being adopted is not adequately democratic, prudent and transparent. To begin with, the Boston Consulting Group, GN Rao Committee Report and the Report of the High Powered Expert Group have not been placed in the public domain for discussion by all stakeholders and people-at-large. We feel that the current government has a historic opportunity to correct the many mistakes that have been made by the former government.
- The decision to shift the Secretariat to Vishakapatnam, a reasonably developed city, already stressed by population, pollution, water crisis, environmental concerns runs contrary to the proposed plan of decentralization. We are of the considered opinion that any decision on the capital must ensure that there is no further damage to agriculture, displacement of people and loss of livelihoods and environment. Also, the state government must
thoughtfully utilize the developed land and existing infrastructure, so that there is no further burden on the state exchequer.
- Care must be taken to ensure that there is no lopsided development only in few urban centres and the needs and aspirations of backward and underdeveloped regions are duly considered. Decentralisation, transparency and accountability must be the hallmark of development, in true spirit. The Government must focus on distributive justice in the matter of sharing of resources. Development must be such that the lives of marginalized are not devastated and scarce resources like land and water are not abused.
- We feel that the true spirit of decentralization can be realized only when the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments regarding decentralization of powers to the village and urban local bodies are implemented in true letter and spirit. The establishment of Gram Sachivalayas is the first necessary step which needs to be further strengthened. Likewise the government must prioritize strict implementation of the Panchayats Extension to Schedule Areas Act, 1996 in all the Schedule V Adivasi regions of the state as well as Forest Rights Act, to democratic forest governance. With a major coastline of 975 kms, the state government also needs to focus on decentralization of coastal governance with rights to fish workers and safeguarding coasts from destructive ‘development’ projects. These are all areas where the new government needs to work if it really intends to decentralize governance and development.
- Media reports and our interactions with farmers, especially women, also brought to our notice both physical and verbal excesses by the police at many places. We condemn the deployment of police on such a massive scale, imposition of Sec 144 and Sec 30 of the Police Act. Decision on the capital is a political issue that must not be dealt with by force, but through democratic dialogue with the agitating farmers and other concerned stake holders. We also call upon political parties to adopt a pragmatic approach and not divert the issue for their own vested interests.
- The State government has an obligation to find an amicable and just solution to this issue, while also ensuring fair treatment to those who have suffered because of the deeds of the earlier government. In doing so, the concerns of the small, marginal and tenant farmers, landless labourers, dalits and women must be given priority. We hope both the state government and the Hon’ble High Court, which is seized of some of these matters, will take into consideration all these aspects and uphold the constitutional rights of the citizens and affected parties. ###
Poguri Chennaiah and Meera Sanghamitra for National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)