New capital for Andhra: Rather than serving real estate mafia and big business, the government should serve local people’s interests

Fertile agricultural land to be acquired for the new Andhra Pradesh capital
Fertile agricultural land to be acquired for the new Andhra Pradesh capital

On December 5-6, 2014, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) organized the visit of a Fact-finding Committee to the villages of the proposed capital region of Andhra Pradesh. The Committee was headed by MG Devasahayam, retired IAS and former administrator-cum-estate officer of the Chandigarh Capital Project, and included Bhupathiraju Ramakrishnam Raju, national convenor of NAPM, P Chenniah, leader of Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union, and Prof Babu Rao, eminent environmental expert and retired professor from Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT). The Fact-finding Committee’s report:

The Fact-finding Committee visited the following villages: Undavalli and Penumaka villages (Tadepalli Mandal); Krishnayapalem, Nidamarru, Koragal and Neerukonda (Mangalagiri Mandal); Venkatapalem, Mandadam, Malkapuram, Uddandayyapalem, Lingayapalem, Rayapudi, Peddaparimi, Vaddamanu and Tullur (Tullur Mandal).

The committee met with affected farmers and agricultural labourers, local body representatives, leaders of farmer unions and local activists of community based organizations. The committee also heard the views of farmer union leaders, political party representatives and civil society groups at a roundtable meeting organized at KL Rao Bhavan during the evening on December 6, 2014.

Based on these interactions, the NAPM Fact-finding Committee is highly disturbed by the approach of the Andhra Pradesh government in proceeding with the capital region identification and development without any due process and legal basis, which has spread confusion, fear and tension among the residents of the 29 villages whose names have been announced. In an area of most diverse and prosperous agriculture, a very disturbing game of real estate speculation and land sale has been unleashed, while there is no rationale for acquiring such a huge extent of land – ranging from 52,000 acres to 1 lakh acres as per various pronouncements from the government.

This does not make rational sense based on the experiences of earlier capital region development in Chandigarh, Gandhinagar or Raipur, and it is highly inappropriate to take Singapore as a model for capital of the rich in agriculture state of Andhra Pradesh.

The villages marked for the capital region include two kinds of villages – one with irrigated multi-crop land within 2 km from the river and another with mostly rainfed land. All the villages have a vibrant agricultural economy of Rs1000 crore per year, with complete linkages from farm to market, and large sections of people deriving livelihoods – including land owners, sharecroppers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers. This is an area of the best soil and climatic conditions, and the richest diversity of more than 120 crops. More than 1 lakh working persons are earning secure livelihood from agriculture in these villages, including the residents and external labour. Drastic urbanization of this area will adversely impact food security of the state.

While everyone is talking about “land-pooling”, there is no clear understanding among the people about the terms on which their land will be taken and what benefits they will get. Some political leaders have told the farmers that pooling system is final, and that if the farmers do not agree to the pooling, either their land will be compulsorily acquired or their lands will be declared as “green belt” after which they will never be able to develop the land or sell the same. Most of the information that the villagers have is coming from real estate agents leading to a sudden boom in the land rates and sale of more than 3,500 acres in a month involving more than Rs 4,000 crore.  All this has created a mindset of uncertainty, confusion and fear among the villagers about their future.

There is no legal basis for land-pooling arrangement so far. Even the most basic requirement of preparing a feasibility report has not been done. The only existing law which governs the acquisition of land is the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. This Act can be used only for public purpose, and commercial land development and city development is not considered public purpose. Even for public purpose, acquisition of irrigated, multi-crop land is prohibited except under exceptional circumstances when there is absolutely no alternative.

Reports and statements from the government indicate that 52,000 acres are going to be taken for building the capital city and this can go beyond 1 lakh acres in later phases. This defies all imagination. Having worked in the development of Chandigarh capital area, Devasahayam has pointed out that in Chandigarh which is the most acclaimed capital area, only 9000 acres were taken in Phase 1, and 6000 acres in Phase 2. These two phases have taken more than 50 years for implementation. Especially with the nearby cities of Vijayawada having the extent of 15,500 acres and Guntur having 13,000 acres, there is absolutely no reason for the new capital area to have an area beyond a couple of thousand acres.

Experience of Chandigarh shows that, after 60 years, the population has grown only to 12 lakh. Similarly, Gandhinagar has taken 20 years to grow to its current stage. The farmers who are being enticed with 1,000 square yard plots of developed land should realize that the development of urban area and growth in population will take several years, so the land rates being projected by the government for the developed land at several crores per plot will never be realized.

The decisions regarding land for capital cannot be considered merely as a matter of negotiation between government committees and the land owners – which has been the approach of the government so far. The government figures show that 32,153 persons in these villages are mainly dependent on agricultural labour, whereas 10,556 persons are mainly dependent on cultivating their land. About 80% of the people involved in agriculture in these villages are landless or marginal farmers who are dependent on agricultural labour and tenancy. There is absolutely no compensation or safeguards being included by the government for these people who will be losing their secure livelihoods.

It is to be noted that under the new Land Acquisition Act, every person whose livelihood is impacted by the project should be considered as project-affected person and duly compensated before land can be acquired by the government. The government’s emphasis on Land-pooling seems to be a systematic attempt to avoid any compensation to the entire sections of people engaged in agricultural labour and other occupations, thereby undermining the letter and spirit of the Land Acquisition Act.

Before finalizing the capital project, Social Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment should be prepared as laid down in the Land Acquisition Act. Both these must be done in consultation with all the local residents who are the project-affected people, including the land-owning farmers, tenant farmers, agricultural labour and people in other occupations. Then a Master Plan should be prepared for the capital giving all the details. This also must be done in consultation with the project affected people and other stakeholders. Only then any process can be initiated by the government to mobilize land.

The draft Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Bill which the government is reportedly envisaging should be opened to public scrutiny and consultation, and introduced for debate in the Assembly. The Bill cannot have provisions which are in contradiction with the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. After a proper Act is passed by Assembly, a detailed Land pooling scheme should be prepared, discussed with the affected people, notified and only then the government can initiate the process of mobilizing land.

This Capital city is for the people of Andhra Pradesh in particular and the citizens of Indian in general. So it must reflect the culture, ethos and priorities of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Superimposing the development models of other countries which have a completely different cultural and economic background is highly inappropriate and could create a major cultural shock with far-reaching consequences.

In conclusion, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) gives a call to the people of the proposed capital region that there is no legal sanctity to the approach taken by the government on land-pooling, and they should disregard the threats that their lands will be forcefully taken if they do not agree to land-pooling. We call on the Andhra Pradesh government to completely revamp their misguided approach to the capital development and put up their plans transparently for public debate and follow the due process of law. Rather than serving the real estate mafia and big businesspersons, the government should proceed in a manner that serves the interests of all the local people including the majority of residents who are not land-owners.

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