Amaravati Crawls To Its End But Little Evidence Of Corruption
Andhra chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy (Jagan) has proven himself to be a master politician with his latest three-capital plan.
While the state is likely to find itself in a big fix in a variety of ways, which will be detailed under, he has managed to cultivate political capital with his move.
And this would help him immensely in the upcoming municipal polls in the state.
No one is likely to judge or fault a chief minister who appeases warring factions within his state, whether there is development or not, whether taxpayer money is wasted or not and whether there truly is equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity or not.
What matters to the Andhra voter is messaging. And Jagan has shown that he is ace at that!
But first, what is the three-capital plan?
Three Capitals For Andhra
The GN Rao-led ‘Expert Committee for Comprehensive Development Strategy for the entire State’ of Andhra Pradesh has recommended three capitals for the state of Andhra and suggested that government offices too be distributed across the state.
This is in line with what chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy had campaigned for and one of the key planks he came to power on earlier this year. Jagan, as he is better known, had alleged high corruption in the choosing and making of Amaravati as the capital.
Rao and his team, offered little by way of surprises – as the chief minister of the state, Jagan had been hinting all along, the committee recommended that the planned ‘world-class’ capital city of Amaravati be downsized and the arms of administration, judiciary and government be distributed across different regions of the state.
The Rao Committee recommends that the Andhra Pradesh High Court be moved to Kurnool in Rayalaseema region with benches in Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) and Amaravati.
The summer legislative assembly is to be located in Vizag while in winter, the assembly session would be held in Amaravati-Mangalagiri area. Raj Bhavan would be located in Amaravati, as against Vijayawada where it is presently situated.
There would be two camp offices for the chief minister – one in Amaravati-Mangalagiri and the other in Vizag. The Secretariat too would be located in Vizag.
“There is nothing wrong in having more than one capital. It is there in some other countries like South Africa. The more you diversify the development, the more you diversify the government activity to different places, you can achieve more development of the state. That is what the present chief minister feels,” Amar Devulapalli, National Media Advisor of the Andhra Pradesh government told The Lede.
As for the grand ‘world class’ capital city envisioned by Jagan’s predecessor, Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), it would be cut down to size and most of it converted into solar parks.
“Considering that the State Government has already made some public investment, the expenditure incurred needs to be brought to a stage of completion to enable public use.
Given this context, only land where construction commitments are already made, may be seen as potential areas for further development.
Along with the completion of the already committed areas to a scaled down habitable condition, the Blue System Networks for flood control and water management also need to be completed to secure the land for future.
In such a scenario, the area above the canal and other open lands available with Government ownership can be used for Solar Farms and Urban Agriculture. The entire canal system which will be open to sky can be partially covered with solar panels, as they are under Government ownership.
This has the twin benefits of providing contiguous systems on which Solar Energy Panels can be mounted with a rudimentary structure, while the panels will cut the sun falling on the water reducing evaporation loss.
The twin moves of bringing in urban farming and Solar Power harvesting has the benefits of ensuring energy security, food security and water security rolled into one.
A consolidation of these areas as a planned linear development cutting across the two Districts will help regulate the inevitable unauthorized growth along the highway.
As per the direction of the Hon’ble NGT, riverfront developments are to be avoided.
The buildings and landscapes proposed in generous land parcels and a grand public posturing, is an expensive development and can be modified to provide a practical solution which is not wasteful public money.”
The government’s plan, on paper, is sound and acceptable. But the devil, as always, lies in the detail.
The Problems With The 3-Capital Plan
The Rao committee has relied heavily on the Dr KC Sivaramakrishnan committee report that was set up to review and suggest the location of the capital city for Andhra Pradesh post the division of the state into Telangana and Andhra.
Farmers in Amaravati who had pooled land and NRIs and developers who had bought land in Amaravati, are now protesting against the move by the government.
The Lede had brought to you a ground report on how Amaravati had turned into a “ghost city” post the change in government.
Amaravati was brought under the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA), the nodal agency to plan and develop the ambitious ‘world class’ capital. The APCRDA itself was created out of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development
Authority Act (APCRDA) of 2014, enacted by the legislative assembly of Andhra Pradesh under the then Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government.
It was the APCRDA Act that provided the legal basis for the land pooling scheme for Amaravati through which 33,000 acres of land was given by farmers for the making of the capital in return for a developed plot. Apart from this, 3000 acres was meant to be acquired under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 but this move has been stayed by the AP High Court.
Section 41 of the APCRDA Act specifies a procedure for modification of any plans for development of the capital city region and area.
“The Commissioner or the Chief Executive of the Local body, as the case may be, shall prepare a report together with the plan and full particulars of any such modification.
Before making any modifications to the development plans, the Authority, shall publish a notice inviting objections or suggestions from the public giving a time period of fifteen days from the date of publication of the notice and shall hear all objections and suggestions.
After due consideration of the objections and suggestions received, the final modification made under the provisions of this section shall be published in the Andhra Pradesh Gazette, and the final modifications shall come into operation from the date of publication of such notification.”
This basically means that public hearings need to be held before the approved plan for Amaravati can be modified.
But in the Rao committee report, it is stated – “An online public opinion platform was created and a large number of responses were received. However, while considering this, the Committee was clear that this not a referendum but only an online expression of public views.”
This is another hurdle for the report’s implementation. If the Master Plan has to be changed, officials will have to conduct public hearings – a risky business, considering the mood Amaravati’s farmers are currently in.
Two days before the GN Rao Committee submitted its report, chief minister Jagan had cited South Africa as an example to be emulated in terms of capital cities. Speaking in Assembly, he said that the country had three capitals – Pretoria as the administrative capital, Cape Town as the legislative capital and Bloemfontein as the judicial capital – Jagan said that this needs to be emulated.
But what he did not mention was that in 2016 itself, South African President Jacob Zuma had called for reducing the number of capital cities, citing the huge expenditure involved in transporting officials, housing them and in maintaining government offices at far ends of the country. Zuma pitched strongly for a single capital in his address to the nation. That debate continues to dominate South African political discourse today.
Andhra Pradesh, with Rs 2.52 lakh crore debt, expected to rise to Rs 3 lakh crore this fiscal, and severely shrunken revenues, is not likely to be able to bear the costs involved of government officials and people’s representatives shuttling between three cities.
As for the relocation of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, currently situated in Amaravati, to Kurnool, it appears to be another pipe dream by the Jagan government.
The Sivaramakrishnan Committee had recommended that the High Court be set up in Vizag with a bench in Rayalaseema.
The recommendation came with a proviso - “It is however up to the President of India to decide on the location of the new High Court of Andhra. This will no doubt be done after appropriate consultations with the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court, Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. The decision regarding creation of an additional bench will also be taken by the Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh, depending on the necessity of such a bench from the perspective of the court.”
It was with the Supreme Court’s nod, the President’s nod and the assent of the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh that the High Court came up in Amaravati. Jagan’s plan to move it to Kurnool, with a bench each in Vizag and Amaravati, is more likely to backfire.
When contacted, YSRC representatives said they would study the issues raised and respond after consulting with government. This article will be updated once they respond.
But the YSRC government can of course go ahead with all of its plans since the land for Amaravati was not acquired under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 better known as the Land Acquisition Act.
If this Act had been used by previous chief minister Chandrababu Naidu to acquire all the land for Amaravati, Jagan would not be in a position to change the purpose for which the land was acquired or even make modifications to the existing plans.
But since land pooling was done under the state’s APCRDA Act, Jagan’s government can well repeal the Act, thereby stranding farmers and everyone else who holds land in Amaravati.
Worse, they might not even have legal recourse, as the state is well within its right to repeal the Act.
Allegations Of Corruption, But Little Evidence
The key reason given for the change of plans of the capital city was the alleged corruption that the previous Telugu Desam Party government had indulged in.
The Lede accessed the report of the Expert Committee on Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) and Amaravati Development Corporation Ltd (ADCL) dated 18 October 2019.
This committee was set up to peruse the work done by the two state government agencies responsible for the capital city – APCRDA and ADCL – and provide concrete proof of corruption.
But the report, which is yet to be made public, is a damp squib. Not only does it not provide actionable evidence for the most part, its recommendations are for another expert committee to study the allegations of corruption.
Here are the key allegations made in the report.
The report cites “arbitrary increase” in cost of consultancy fees and other costs without going into detail about what the records state as the reason for the increase in fee.
The total cost of foreign and Indian consultants along with a four-tier model of third party quality verification cost around Rs 834 crore.
Officials in the APCRDA say that this is less than 2% of the total spend of Rs 44,000 crore on the project. This, they argue, is a reasonable fraction to pay for complicated engineering designs and stringent on-ground quality checks.
Another issue over the expert committee report is that one of the members of the committee, P Suryaprakash is the founder director of SatyaVani Projects and Consultants Private Limited, a firm that had worked on the plans for the interim government offices for Andhra. How a person who worked on the capital city project can be on a committee meant to investigate the same project, is being questioned.
The report speaks about the plinth rates being much higher than the rates cited by the CPWD but fails to make an actionable case for corruption charges.
Design contractors, according to the report, were paid Rs 290 crore towards their services. 39 projects were given to 23 agencies for a sum of Rs 549.73 crore. “This amounts to 2.12% of estimated value against the normal 1%,” observes the report. But again, the report fails to make out a case for corruption or get into the details.
The ambitious four towers of 50 floors each, to house the Secretariat and HoD offices, has been passed over to another suggested “expert committee” since “it involves huge expenditure to the exchequer” to the tune of Rs 4900 crore and possibly more, as costs escalate with delay.
The report criticises the rental charges for a crane to build the 50-storey towers has been sanctioned at Rs 46 lakh per month. The report raises the question as to why the rentals are so high when purchasing a similar crane along with maintenance and operational charges works out to only Rs 8 crore. But the math is skewed in the report. “For five towers at the rate of two cranes per tower, the rental cost alone works out to Rs 80 crores,” says the report, terming this as “intended benefit to the contractor.” However, even if the government had purchased the cranes, as the report hints at, the cost of ten cranes for five towers too works out Rs 80 crore.
According to the report, the infrastructure budget is Rs 34,000 crore which means it is Rs 1 crore per acre of land. It should have been Rs 0.3 crore per acre, leading to the budget overshooting by Rs 24,000 crore. Again, there is no evidence of corruption laid out.
The report is incisive on the slow pace of work in Amaravati. It details the various projects and construction work – which range from 0.07% to 60% complete. Most of the projects are in the 0.05% to 0.1% completion zone. This, according to APCRDA officials, is due to the fact that the Master Plan underwent changes and had to be perfected before work could begin. Once the plan was finalised, pace of work was very quick, they say.
The report finally states - “It is further recommended that after due enquiry into the irregularities observed in the procurement and implementation of the projects, the project works both for consultants and contractors may be considered for award in a transparent way duly resorting to reverse tendering as applicable for specific conditions of a package.”
It is unclear as to why an expert committee set up to provide evidence of corruption as alleged by the chief minister, consistently throws the ball into the court of another committee to be set up to ascertain the corruption allegations. It begs the question – if another committee has to probe the allegations, what exactly was this particular committee set up for?
When queried about the incomplete nature of the expert committee report, YSRC MP Mithun Reddy told The Lede that the Amaravati project was a “huge scam.”
“If you see the per square foot cost in Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai, it is only Rs 3250 to Rs 4000. But if you see what price they have given in Amaravati, it was Rs 11,000 just for the building cost, that too for a temporary building. Lakhs and lakhs were made that way,” he said.
When asked about the details of this particular expert committee report and why it was rather vague, Reddy said that the actual final report was yet to come in.
“The actual expert committee is yet to give the final picture,” he said. “One is looking at construction, one is looking at land issues, it is like a group of various committees. So that must be the reason that they want a second opinion. It is always good to get a second opinion,” he said about the passing over of the findings to yet another expert committee.
Telugu Desam Party president Kala Venkata Rao told The Lede that the present dispensation was behaving in a similar manner as “crazy people do when given a stone. They hurl it in any direction they feel like,” he said.
“There is no evidence to find because there is nothing in the allegations,” he said. “There is no need to bother about all these reports. He (Jagan) has got power but he lacks administrative skills. Nothing more needs to be said on this topic,” said Rao.
One thing is clear – Jagan’s three-capital plan will face hurdles before it is implemented.
But no matter what happens, Jagan himself would smile all the way to the election booths in the new year.