A state that does not yet have a capital

JJust days before the deadline of June 2, 2024, the day when Hyderabad will cease to be the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the political class in the remaining Andhra Pradesh is maintaining a stoic silence on the issue of choosing a capital.

According to Section 5 of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014, Hyderabad will be the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for a period of up to ten years with effect from June 2, 2014, the official date of bifurcation of the combined state. The remaining state of Andhra Pradesh was given the period of ten years to build up its own capital. But Andhra Pradesh remains where it started. The tragedy is that the presidents of the incumbent YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and the Opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are moving in different directions on this issue.

The first five years after the demerger were marked by buzz about a ‘futuristic and world-class smart capital’ in Amaravati for Andhra Pradesh. This was generated by N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was then Chief Minister. To build a ‘people’s capital’ estimated at ₹51,000 crore in 2015, Mr Naidu acquired 33,000 hectares of land from farmers through land pooling and promised to make them partners in the capital development plan. He roped in Singapore-based companies and paid them thousands of crores to build the project. He also collected ₹7,500 crore from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation, a few hundred crores from the World Bank and ₹1,500 crore from the Union government.

But in the 2019 elections, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP came to power. The new Chief Minister stopped all projects and reduced the budget of the new capital to ₹500 crore. This resulted in the withdrawal of the World Bank and Singaporean companies from the project. Amaravati now looks like a ghost capital.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s plan to decentralize development by establishing three capitals in the state has run into legal challenges; the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

The people of the state blame both the chief ministers for being insensitive to their emotions and problems in the past decade. They also accuse Congress of letting them down by carrying out the bifurcation process in the most unscientific manner. It brings back grim memories for them of the bifurcation bill that was passed in Parliament without any discussion, microphones were switched off in the Lok Sabha, live telecast of the proceedings was stopped and members opposed to the bill were expelled from the House forced by the marshals. The people feel that the development of the state has taken a back seat as the leaders indulge in vendetta politics.

Although Hyderabad was the joint capital of Andhra Pradesh for a decade, Mr Naidu operated from there for only a year before moving to Vijayawada. Many people attribute his hasty move to his fear of an impending arrest in the cash-for-vote fraud that broke out in 2015. Some political experts believe that Hyderabad would probably have become the permanent capital of Andhra Pradesh, just as Chandigarh is the capital of Punjab and Haryana, had Mr. Naidu stayed in the city for 10 years.

In view of the impending June 2 deadline, Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy has set the ball rolling for finalizing the division of assets and liabilities between the two states, a contentious issue that is still pending due to lack of consensus. After many rounds of bilateral meetings failed to address the issue, Andhra Pradesh has moved the Supreme Court for a ‘fair’ division of assets and debts between the two states. A total of 245 institutions with a fixed asset value of ₹1.42 lakh crore are at stake. Of these, 91 fall under Schedule IX and 142 under Schedule X of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act. The split of another twelve institutions, which are not mentioned in the law, has also become controversial.

Andhra Pradesh leaders are concerned about the Congress government in Telangana carrying out the distribution process fairly. They feel that even if Mr Revanth Reddy makes an attempt to clear the confusion, the Opposition Bharat Rashtra Samithi will undoubtedly target him by rekindling the Telangana welfare issue.

There is still no clarity about the capital. Whichever party comes to power in these elections must address the issue; they owe it to the people.

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