In AP’s Future Capital Amaravati, Land Row at Election Centrestage
For Andhra Pradesh’s future capital of Amaravati, the upcoming election on 11 April will be significant in more ways than one. Indeed, the future of the to-be-capital could rest on the outcome of the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the state.
YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is hoping to become Andhra’s next Chief Minister, has suggested that if elected to power, he could order a probe into the allegations of corruption in Amaravati. On the other hand, for current CM Chandrababu Naidu, re-election would mean another five years to develop his dream capital.
Allegations of Corruption
In his book Whose Capital, Amaravathi?, Andhra Pradesh's former chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao termed the state government’s land-pooling scheme to acquire about 33,000 acres of farmland for the upcoming capital as “deceit and coercion.” He also questioned the rationale behind choosing the particular area.
Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, incumbent YSRC MLA from Mangalagiri, a constituency in the region, told The Quint, “Even on the land which was grabbed from the farmers, in the name of a new capital, Chandrababu Naidu has indulged in corruption. What more do you need? It was after he bought the land, and benefited through his benamis, that he declared that area as the capital. We brought this to the attention of the people at the time itself.”
Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh, who is contesting the Assembly polls against Ramakrishna Reddy in Mangalagiri, dismissed the corruption charges as “baseless.”
“We did the entire land pooling and then we did the master planning and now we are going about with the construction. The Opposition is not here in Amaravati, they are in Hyderabad, obviously they don’t know what is going on. So, they make all such baseless allegations.”Nara Lokesh, TDP leader and IT Minister of Andhra Pradesh
Interestingly, Mangalagiri is a seat the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) last won in 1985, and Lokesh’s candidature from the difficult seat is linked to it being part of the capital region.
Fighting for Farmers’ Land in the Food Bowl of Andhra
Though the Andhra government has already acquired 33,000 of the 36,000 acres of farmland it says it requires for the capital of Amaravati to be built, some farmers are refusing to part with their land and even posing a challenge in the courts.
Dr Kanna Rao Naidu, one of the locals opposing land acquisition, explains, “They wanted to collect about 50,000 acres of land here, which is very fertile and in the floodplains of both the Krishna and Kondaveetivagu water bodies.”
His sister, advocate and activist Ch Nirmalatha adds, “This is the food bowl of Andhra Pradesh. We are vehemently opposing the acquisition of these fertile lands, because they are all fertile wetlands with four crops a year. But the government of AP says it is dry land and not fit for cultivation throughout the year, only so as to give lesser amount of compensation.”
Nirmalatha has led the struggle of a bunch of farmers opposing land acquisition. As of now, there is some interim relief from the court. “We got a stay order from the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. The land acquisition procedure has been violated and, on those grounds, the acquisition of these lands has been stayed in some villages.”
The Conflict Over Land Pooling
Those who gave up their land are miffed that the protests are holding up work in Amaravati. Vinay Jonnalagadda, a resident of Amaravati who gave up 30 acres for land pooling, is almost dismissive, “There is one percent of the people who are not happy with the way things are going, and are refusing to be part of land pooling. Some have political reasons. Whether I have an acre or two or ten, the land price has gone up by 10 to 20 times, so everyone is making money in this scheme. And they have abundant work around.”
So, what exactly is land pooling?
Nirmalatha explains, “One acre is 4840 sq yards. The government takes the entire land and in return, it will grant you 1000 sq yards of residential area and 450 sq yards of commercial space. It might be in the same village or some other village. For the farmer who doesn’t consent to land pooling, the government says it will acquire the land anyway by enforcing the Land Acquisition Act of 2013.”
Vinay Jonnalagadda points out the added benefit of pooling. “Every person who gave an acre to land pooling also gets Rs 30,000 per year as annuity with an increase of 10 percent per year for the next 10 years.”
But the resisting farmers are not convinced.
“Let them (the government) have an open debate, we are ready to face them. Whether these fertile lands are required or not, if they are required then to what extent? If they take the land, what is the amount they have to compensate to the farmers, if at all it is inevitable?”Ch Nirmalatha, advocate and activist
Pace of Progress in Amaravati Too Slow?
We asked TDP’s heir apparent Nara Lokesh if the pace of work in Amaravati had been too slow. Most things in the to-be-capital seem far from complete. Lokesh disagrees, “If you look at any of the large infrastructure projects in India, nothing has moved anywhere close to the pace at which Amaravati has moved forward. We’re moving at a great speed.”
His opponents in the YSRC though, have left no stone unturned to show the people of Andhra Pradesh that the pace of work in the future capital is far from desirable. MLA Ramakrishna Reddy quips, “All buildings in Amaravati so far are temporary buildings. Why?”