Andhra Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy cannot seem to think beyond his arch rival Chandrababu Naidu, the leader of the Opposition Telugu Desam Party. That alone can explain his decision to scrap the on-going project to build a new State capital, Amravati. This, no doubt, was a prestige project of the former Chief Minister which he undertook after the division of the State. The modern city of Hyderabad, and the capital of the undivided Andhra Pradesh, went to the newly-created Telangana State. Now, nobody can rule out, as Reddy alleges, that there was massive corruption in the Amravati land acquisition and other related works, that farmers were forced to sell their fertile lands to land sharks and speculators at throwaway prices and that some of these people were close to the previous regime.
There may be other malpractices and excessive expenditures in building a highly ambitious project which Naidu envisioned on a grand scale, wanting it to be a world-class futuristic city. For funds, he used up whatever he could from the State revenues and then knocked at the door of the Centre and the World Bank for more. Independent critics felt that it became a vanity project for Naidu who while planning for the grand new capital of Andhra lost sight of the financial burden on the state finances. All this criticism might have more than a kernel of truth, but do you throw the baby with the bathwater? Abandoning a project on which thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money have been already spent makes little sense. Besides, Andhra Pradesh does need a designated capital, it cannot continue to work indefinitely in a make-shift capital in Hyderabad.
Indeed, a lot of administrative and legislative services were already operating from Amravati. Under these circumstances, abandoning the Amravati project is bound to harm the interests of the State. Moreover, Reddy’s idea of an alternative capital is laughable. He says that instead of one composite capital, Andhra will have several mini-capitals where various divisions of the State Secretariat will be located. To decongest an overcrowded capital like New Delhi, which grew around the central government offices into a bloated outgrowth stretching deep up to the borders of Haryana and UP, this made sense, but a relatively small State needs a composite capital which is citizen-friendly and centrally located. The choice of Amravati cannot be questioned. But the exploitation for private greed is another matter.
However, as Reddy knows full well, speculation on land, or allocation of chunks of government land for private profit, was a huge scam perpetrated by his late father when he was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. Reddy himself is still facing probe for corruption, having allegedly amassed over Rs 1,500 crores from the illicit land deals of his late father. Therefore, the sensible solution will be to resume the construction of the Amravati project without causing further disruption. He may undertake an inquiry into any hanky-panky in land acquisition and award of tenders by the Naidu Government.
Unfortunately, the animus against Naidu does not stop with the stoppage of work at Amravati alone. Reddy has also cancelled a few other projects started by the previous government. This is sheer vendetta without an iota of concern for the public welfare and the unnecessary financial burden on the State finances. Sanctity of contracts is necessary to attract private investment. With a lot of private parties suffering losses following the sudden scrapping of the Amravati project, it is unlikely that either Indian or foreign businesses would be too keen to work in Andhra Pradesh under such uncertain conditions.
Even the proposal to make it mandatory for industries and businesses to employ a minimum of 75 per cent of the workers locally is bound to be a disincentive for further investment in the State. Reddy is relatively young and inexperienced. His visceral hatred of Naidu and the zeal to settle scores ought not to hurt the interests of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Even now, it is not too late to resume work on the Amravati project while ordering a probe into serious charges of wrong-doing against the previous regime. His vendetta against Naidu is harming the larger interests of Andhra Pradesh. He should cease forthwith.