Millennium Post

Behind the creation of AP’s new capital city

It is a popular perception that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has been successful in convincing farmers to voluntarily surrender approximately 13,355 hectares of land to build Amaravati, the new capital city.

However, contrary to various claims, 10,916 hectares of land were collected as of August 20, 2015, under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS). LPS was introduced as a policy on January 1, 2015, to acquire land for the capital city.

But the real issue is that of the farmers here. The claim being made that a majority of farmers handed over their lands willingly is an insult to them.

Three factors have played a crucial role in this alleged large-scale land grabbing. These are real estate speculation, the dominant caste factor that is the backbone of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the region, and the persistent blackmailing and intimidation of farmers. The latter is what the people call “mind game” for the government.

In the last week of December 2014, the state government announced that the capital city’s location would be spread over 29 villages in Tullur, Tadepally and Mangalagiri mandals in Guntur district. Subsequently, real estate speculators began raising the value of land.

The announcement created a big impact in <g data-gr-id="93">Tullur</g> area where traditionally lands have been cheaper, as only two crops are grown (mostly cotton and chilies), and the water table is 80-100 feet deep. Thus, the local resistance to land grab was minimal in this area.

Opposition to land pooling was high in villages with highly fertile lands, locally known as <g data-gr-id="97">Jareebu</g> lands, located on the right bank of the Krishna River.

With the water table found only 15-20 feet deep, these lands are considered some of the most fertile ones in the country. About 120 varieties of crops are cultivated around the year on <g data-gr-id="95">Jareebu</g> lands, and these constitute around 40 percent of total lands needed to be pooled, as per the government’s plan.

As part of LPS, the Andhra Pradesh government promised developed residential plots (with all the infrastructure like water, drainage, electricity, etc) sized 836 square metres and commercial plots sized 167 square metres in less fertile areas of Guntur district and 376 square metres on <g data-gr-id="98">Jareebu</g> lands for every 0.404 hectare.

As an incentive, farmers were also offered cash payment of Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 for every 0.404 hectares handed over to the government per annum for these two categories of lands for a period of 10 years with a 10 percent increase every year.

In the light of the huge real estate speculation, farmers were promised that the plots they received would fetch them a huge amount of money, running into crores, once the new capital comes up.

They were told that this was far better than the small amount of money they would get as compensation if the lands were acquired legally.

The upper caste landowners, who forsook agriculture for leasing out lands in Tullur area, came forward early to offer their lands under the LPS. Once convinced that they were the biggest beneficiaries of LPS, they exerted pressure on small farmers. The majority of villages in the new capital city area fall under Tadikonda (SC reserved) assembly constituency that is held by the ruling party. The pro-government media also played a big role in popularising LPS.

Three significant developments strategically played out together in December 2014 and early January 2015 and provided the backdrop to the operation of LPS. These had a tremendous bearing on the reluctant farmers in the subsequent months.

First of all, the government brought the Andhra Pradesh Capital Regional Development Authority Act (APCRDA Act) into force with immediate effect on December 30, 2014, which authorised it to undertake a “voluntary land pooling system”. The LPS rules were issued on January 1, 2015.

Second, the controversial Land Ordinance was promulgated by the Government of India on December 31, 2014. The Andhra Pradesh government used it as a Damocles’ sword over the head of farmers to force them into joining the LPS. Changed provisions in the ordinance were relentlessly used by the government, the ruling party leaders, real estate speculators, and revenue officials to intimidate the farmers.

Thirdly, the police were sent to the villages on a regular basis from the first week of January. This gained momentum after an incident of burning of banana plantations and also, bundles of some other material on the morning of December 29, 2014.

The incident took place in six riverbank villages where resistance to LPS was high. Cases were booked against several activists of the Opposition party. It was widely believed that the ruling party enacted the burning episode as a strategy to send police into the villages.

From the time the idea of the new capital city took shape, the government’s attitude was aggressive and intimidating, and it exhibited an urgency to ensure that the new city was built quickly.

Short deadlines were set to pressurise the farmers for a speedy surrender of lands even before their implications were understood fully. The intention of those short deadlines may be understood by the fact that they were extended eight times till the Land Ordinance lapsed at the end of August. One revenue officer was appointed to each village to be constantly in touch with the farmers and pressurise them into joining LPS. The LPS rules were not made available in Telugu, the local language. Rumours were also spread that those village lands where farmers do not join LPS would be declared as “green belts” in the new capital city. To put it simply, the LPS as implemented by the Andhra Pradesh government in this area has been an anti-small farmer, anti-poor and a socially unjust measure.

The Chief Minister’s frequent visits to foreign countries to solicit international investors/governments also became a factor in the “mind game”—come what may, the lands will be taken over.

Within the first year of coming to power, the Chief Minister made two visits to Singapore and one each to Japan, China and Davos. Teams of Singapore officials have visited the capital city area several times.

Experts argue that the Land Ordinance was brought in by the Government of India with the sole intention of enabling the Andhra Pradesh chief minister to take over these highly fertile lands.

Even by mid-May this year, the land pooled was only about 6,070 hectares. The Singapore team submitted a Capital Region Master Plan in May 2015. A Bhoomi Puja (a ritualistic purification of the land) was performed for the new city on June 6, 2015, though the foundation stone is to be laid on October 22, 2015.

All these preparations were clearly aimed at pressuring the farmers. Re-promulgation of the ordinance three times enabled the state government to continue blackmailing the farmers. Had the ordinance lapsed after the Winter session of Parliament, the whole farce of the so-called “voluntary pooling” would have collapsed like a house of cards.

Now, that the Land Ordinance has lapsed, farmers are fiercely resisting the government’s attempts to acquire thousands of acres of lands, several times more than what is required. The government reportedly requires land for two ports at Machilipatnam and Bhavanapadu and two airports at Bhogapuram and Kuppam.

(C Ramachandraiah is a social scientist based in Hyderabad. Views expressed are strictly personal)
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