Thee Andhra Pradesh High Court’s order to develop Amaravati as the state’s only capital, #KhabarLive did a reality check on the ground about development works in the region demarcated for building Andhra’s capital city.

Until a few years ago, driving through the Karakatta road, located at what is now known as Amaravati, one would see plush green fields of paddy, banana, chilli, turmeric and other crops on either side. The large tracts of fertile land, located along the Krishna river, never disappointed the farmers of this region. Today, thousands of acres of land that once provided bountiful produce to the farmers lie unused and overgrown with wild grass, bushes and shrubs.

In 2014, more than 33,000 acres of land were pooled from the farmers in this region for the construction of Amaravati – Andhra Pradesh’s capital city. Foundations were laid for several projects, and renowned architects and builders were appointed to script history and be part of Chandrababu Naidu’s dream capital.

Implementing the March 3 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court to develop Amaravati as the state’s only capital may prove to be a herculean task for the Jagan Mohan Reddy government. With most parts of land in the region that were readied to construct skyscrapers and massive structures lying abandoned and home to wild shrubs and weeds, the task at hand may prove tougher than expected. The state’s financial liabilities and borrowed debts are only likely to add salt to the state’s already bleeding exchequer.

The Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) was launched by the TDP government in December 2014. Many felt the scheme, which the government portrayed as pro-farmer, was launched to circumvent existing laws that require the government to secure consent from 70% of the families affected by a project. In land pooling, the government signed individual agreements with farmers. In early 2015, the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Act was notified to set the terms of the compensation to be paid to the farmers in exchange for the land.

According to the CRDA Act, for every acre or 4,840 square yards of agricultural land on the banks of the Krishna river, a residential plot of about 1,000 square yards and a commercial plot of 450 square yards would be given to the plot owner. The compensation for dry agricultural land was a commercial plot of 250 square yards. The agreement was land in exchange for land, and no financial transaction took place between the government and the farmers. However, an annual crop compensation of Rs 50,000 per acre of wet agricultural land and Rs 30,000 per acre of dry agricultural land was promised to the farmers. This compensation was due for a 10% increase annually and set to continue for 10 years from the date of the agreement. Landless farmers who worked on the agricultural lands in this region and were displaced because of the project were promised a compensation of Rs 2,500 per month for 10 years.

In two villages the farmers were not convinced with the government’s compensation and refused to part with their land. However, that did not deter the Naidu government, which decided to use the land acquisition law to take over their land. Some farmers managed to get a stay from the court. However, since the majority of the land required was acquired, the government could go ahead with its plan of building the capital.

Abandoned buildings, neglected farmers

Fast forward to March 2022 and all one can see are a handful of abandoned buildings. The ministers’ bungalows, judges’ bungalows, All India service officers’ quarters and residences for other gazetted officers are among the many under-construction structures that now lie deserted. Hundreds of massive pipes that were brought in to be used for the integrated underground infrastructure project lie unused on one side of the road in Amaravati.

Today, besides the board, one can see only a large inundated site that was dug up for laying the foundation. Several rusting rods laid as part of the foundation for the massive structures can be seen jutting out from the ground.

A little away from the building that is now being used as the Andhra Pradesh High Court was where the permanent High Court was to come up. All that remains is a board announcing that the foundation stone was laid by Justice Ranjan Gogoi on February 3, 2019, when he was the Chief Justice of India.

Some distance away are the unfinished bungalows and quarters, where watchmen have been appointed to ensure thieves don’t make away with the construction material. K Ravindra, a watchman at the judges’ quarters, was a farmer in the region until his land was given away for the capital development. “My family parted with 3 acres in return for a 2,000 sq yard commercial plot,” Ravindra tells #KhabarLive. When asked if he prefers this job over farming, he says, “Though it was hard work, farming was more lucrative. We would cultivate a variety of crops. Now, I’m paid Rs 10,000 per month. I have to just sit here and keep an eye out for thieves.”

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While Ravindra chose to work as a watchman, Marri Kishore from Thulluru village, another farmer who parted with his land, is struggling to make ends meet. “Moneylenders were skeptical about lending us money because of the uncertainties. Altogether, I have around Rs 5 lakh in loans. I’m paying almost Rs 10,000 per month as interest. I have three daughters who are all studying. I’m unable to pay their college fees. When I was cultivating crops, I earned enough for all my needs. I had nearly 3.5 acres of land. I was earning nearly Rs 30,000 as profit per acre, per crop. We were able to cultivate 2-3 crops per year. As crop compensation, I got Rs 48,000 per acre this year from the government,” Kishore says.

Though the government had allotted him the residential and commercial plot in exchange for his land, Kishore says he isn’t in a position to sell it at the moment due to low land prices as a result of the lack of development. “It will not fetch me a good price if I sell now. I’m saving the land for getting my daughters married and their future,” Kishore says.

The 10-year crop compensation was intended as a grace period for farmers who gave up their land to learn a skill or to take up an alternate profession. Madasu Samuel, another farmer from the Amaravati region, decided to rear cattle for a living after he gave up his land. He was sitting under the shade of a tree with music blaring on his basic model mobile phone as his buffaloes grazed on a plot of land. “I bought two buffaloes, I survive with the milk I sell and the annual compensation that I receive,” reveals Samuel.

When Samuel parted with his property which he bought with money from his ancestral wealth, his brothers filed a case claiming a share in the plot that he received from the government. “My brothers thought it was a golden opportunity to make easy money. Thinking that the developed plots would become very valuable, they decided to move legally. Today, there has hardly been any increase in the value while the case is still being heard in the court,” shares Samuel.

Amaravati development works are underway

While the farmers and many others in Amaravati say that no visible development has taken place ever since Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in 2019, the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) maintains that development works never stopped despite the change in government.

A highly placed official told #KhabarLive on the condition of anonymity, “The CRDA has always been committed to the development of this region. The additional court halls are being developed in the judicial complex at a cost of Rs 33.5 crore. Rs 150 crore has been sanctioned for making Karakatta a two-lane road. We’re also in the process of developing the plots acquired under LPS. The smart city works will also be taken up to the tune of Rs 500 crore. The process of registering lands to 69 Union and state government institutions and 61 private institutions is also underway.”

The CRDA also says that the state government has given a guarantee to borrow Rs 3,000 crore, which has already been approved by the state cabinet. The CRDA has also recently taken a loan of Rs 194 crore, of which Rs 94 crore has already been received from banks for the completion of the All India Service officers’ quarters and MLA/MLC quarters.

However, the CRDA says that the Naidu government’s master plan to develop Amaravati is not entirely feasible. “It is impossible to stick to the master plan made by the Chandrababu Naidu government. It was made without considering how much the state could really afford. Master plans are dynamic and can be changed based on available resources and present needs of the government,” the source explains.

While the March 3 Andhra Pradesh High Court order has come as a ray of hope for the farmers who have been protesting for more than 800 days, highly placed sources in the government say that the government is likely to appeal in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order.

Meanwhile, the farmers who consider the High Court order a step closer to their dream of Amaravati as the only capital of the state have their fingers crossed.

Ray of hope to protesting farmers in HC’s order

The Andhra Pradesh High Court recently directed the state government to develop Amaravati as the state capital, as proposed under the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act.

After more than two years, residents in the villages under the Amaravati capital region in Andhra Pradesh are seeing non-locals passing by in cars, looking to buy land. As a car stops to buy a bottle of water, “Plots kosamaa andee…? Ekkada nunchi vachhaaru? (Are you looking for plots? Where have you come from?)” is the question that greets them. The conversation soon revolves around land and how buyers have been turning up to enquire about plots. The March 3 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court directing the government to develop Amaravati as the only capital has driven up interest in land in the region and come as a ray of hope for many residents.

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In 2014, the Chandrababu Naidu government announced that Andhra’s capital would be located at Amaravati. In the months that followed, more than 33,000 acres were acquired from farmers in the region and a master plan of the capital city was released to the public. Following this, several development works began in the capital. However, in 2019, after Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP was voted to power with a thumping majority, it was decided that Andhra would have three capitals instead of one. The idea was decentralisation and overall development of the state. This announcement shattered the dreams of the Amaravati farmers who had given their lands after they were promised residential and commercial plots in the developed capital city. And nearly three years after Jagan came to power, his three-capital plan hasn’t fructified yet because of several legal hurdles. In this background, the recent HC order has brought cheer to the local residents.

The HC directed the state government to develop Amaravati as the capital, as proposed under the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act, 2014. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government was ordered to stick to the master plan prepared by the previous government, and develop infrastructural facilities around the acquired land as promised in the Act.

Promises to farmers

The TDP government planned to build the dream capital of Amaravati on land acquired from farmers. Over 33,000 acres were acquired and agreements signed with individual land owners as part of the land pooling scheme launched in December 2014. The understanding was that the government would acquire agricultural land and develop it into urban real estate. It was widely publicised that the development would raise the value of land, after which a part of the original plot would be returned to the owner.

The Naidu government portrayed it as a farmer-friendly scheme, which will bring rich dividends for those parting with their land. Many believed that the scheme was the government’s way of circumventing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The farmers accepted the land pooling on the condition that the government would lay roads, build the drainage system and other civic amenities when the plots were returned to them. They were told that once the capital was built, Amaravati would evolve into a major hub, that businesses would set up shop, and they would eventually become owners of very prime and expensive property. However, Jagan’s three capital-plan – Amaravati would retain the state Assembly and become the legislative capital while Visakhapatnam would be the executive capital and the seat of power while Kurdnool would be the judicial capital – shattered their dreams.

The farmers, who had been protesting ever since, were jubilant at the HC order.

‘Hopes pinned on judiciary’

When #KhabarLive visited Amaravati, the farmers had entered the 813th day of protest. Like in many of the 29 villages that had parted with their lands for the building of the capital, in Thullur too nearly 100 people sit under the shade of a tent continuing their protest as slogans of “Andhrula ekaika rajdhani – Amaravati” (One and only capital of Andhra – Amaravati) echo.

While the HC order has brought a lot of cheer, the farmers are concerned that the government will find a loophole or a way to skirt the order. “We will continue our protest until Amaravati is developed as the capital city. Though our wounds have begun to heal, we will never forget what caused the wound,” one of the protesting farmers tells #KhabarLive.

For the last few weeks, the daily protest, which begins at 9 in the morning, ends at 1 pm due to the heat. On the dais are statues of Nyayadevata (Goddess of Justice) and Buddha, adorned with bright red flowers. Asked if the Nyayadevata statue was a recent addition, one of the farmer leaders says, “From the beginning we have pinned our hopes on the judiciary. The statue has been there since the beginning of our protest.”

Dr Ramalingaiah Pajja, who has been part of the protest, says, “The government’s plan is to drag the issue. The farmers are victims of political vendetta. Jagan Mohan Reddy has proved he is a destructive Chief Minister. The farmers’ padayatra sent a loud message.” Dr Ramalingaiah, who was a practising doctor in Muscat, decided to give up his job and stay back to fight for the cause of the farmers. Among a minority of people who parted with large plots of land for the capital, he gave 5 acres while other members of his family gave another 5 acres.

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Across villages, farmers say that the High Court’s order has rekindled hope. Vimala Reddy, a mother of two, has been part of the protests since the beginning. Every morning she finishes her work and leaves home to participate in the protest. Asked what has changed after the HC’s order, Vimala replies, “We sleep peacefully now. There is a smile on the farmers’ faces. For several months before this, there was looming anxiety and despair. The dark clouds seem to be clearing as the court’s order has come as a silver lining.”

Vimala, Pavani Matha, Samrajyam Naidu, Nagamani Machela are among the women who have been participating in the protests diligently. In fact, a majority of those participating in the protest are women. While Samrajyam and Nagamani parted with 2 acres and 1 acre of land respectively as part of the Land Pooling Scheme, Vimala and Pavani gave 0.5 acres each. “Why should we suffer, what have we done to deserve this? All we did was agree to part with our land for the development of the capital,” Pavani says.

R Sivakrishna Naik, a tribal engineering graduate, works in a rice shop in Thullur village. He had big dreams of bagging a job in one of the companies in Amaravati after his graduation and eventually settling down in the capital city. Though he completed his engineering, his dreams failed to take off, and today he earns a salary of Rs 9,000 per month at the rice shop. Sivakrishna is among the thousands of others who believed their small world would change for the good when the TDP government released its master plan in 2014 announcing that the capital would be built at Amaravati.

Though disappointed with the way his life turned out, Sivakrishna’s face still lights up as he speaks enthusiastically about the recent turn of events. “In the last few years, people who come to the shop used to buy small quantities of sanna biyyam (good quality rice). They would take it home and mix it with the poorer quality rice that they get from the ration shop. But in the last one week, I’ve sold nearly 8 bags of sanna biyyam every day, which in itself is an indication that people are feeling hopeful.” He also says that moneylenders who were ignoring farmers have again been lending them money in the past week.

Skyrocketing Land prices

Before the TDP government declared Amaravati as its capital, land prices here were around Rs 8,000 per sq yard. After the capital development works began, the prices shot up massively. One piece of land is even said to have sold for Rs 49,000 per sq yard, the highest in the area. Prices crashed when the new government announced the change of capital. Until a few months back, the price was as low as Rs 12,500 per sq yard. Despite this, there were no buyers.

People no longer wanted to buy land in Amaravati because of the confusion that prevailed about the capital. However, ever since the HC order there is again a shift in the mindset of the people, say local residents. Sellers are now quoting between Rs 18,000 and 20,000 per sq yard. If the HC order is implemented by the government and the capital is built in Amaravati, the price of lands will increase exponentially. The plots returned to the farmers, as per the CRDA Act, would be much more valuable – in line with what was promised to them when they parted with their land.

Govt version

While Opposition parties have welcomed the HC judgment, Minister for Municipal Administration Botsa Satyanarayana said that the state government is still committed to its policy of decentralisation of administration. He also went on to say that the Union government had clearly stated that it is the prerogative of a state to decide the location of its capital. He said the government would develop lands in Amaravati but it would be done considering time and available funds.

While the six-month time limit set by the AP High Court has been called unrealistic and impractical, it remains to be seen what the Andhra Pradesh government will decide about developing the capital. While highly placed sources in the party hint that the government is likely to move the Supreme Court against the HC order, the Opposition is also expecting this course of action as it will buy the state government more time. #KhabarLive #hydnews