India court puts plans for Amaravati back on the table in Andhra Pradesh

The court on March 3 ordered that the government build the city as earlier planned in one location. PHOTO: ST FILE

BANGALORE - A local court has ordered that the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state, in south India, should be built as originally planned in Amaravati.

It rejected the state government's plan for a "decentralised" capital with the executive, judicial, and legislative centres in separate locations.

The court was hearing 60 petitions largely from Amaravati farmers who had given their land to the government under a land pooling scheme, under which instead of monetary compensation, they would be paid with a developed plot in the new capital.

The court on March 3 ordered that the government build the city as earlier planned in one location and that plots allotted to farmers "should be developed and infrastructure facilities should be created for the plots within three months."

"The state assembly has no powers to make any further laws on the capital city. No office should be shifted from Amaravati to any other place," the court added.

Urban Development Minister Botsa Satyanarayana said the government was taking legal advice on challenging the verdict in the Supreme Court: "Our government is keen on decentralisation and that is still our priority... Why can't a state decide when there are constitutional powers to state in the federal structure?"

A week after the court order, on March 12, the state budget allotted eight billion rupees (S$143 million) for "developing essential infrastructure for the new capital city" but did not specifically name Amaravati.

Singapore had been involved in the Amaravati project since 2014, when Andhra Pradesh lost its capital city, Hyderabad, to the newly created state of Telangana. A whole new city was planned on the banks of the river Krishna, on 684ha of village and farmland.

In 2017, the Singapore consortium, the Singapore Amaravati Investment Holdings, was announced as the master developers for the waterfront financial centre in Amaravati. The city was conceived to be 10 times the size of Singapore.

In November 2019, the Singapore consortium and the Andhra government terminated their agreement on mutual consent, with the former saying that it was "no longer feasible to develop the Amaravati Capital City Start-Up Area as originally planned".

The next month, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy announced the government's plan for "a decentralised capital" with the executive, judicial, and legislative centres in Visakhapatnam, Kurnool, and Amaravati respectively.

Mr Reddy has often claimed that his predecessor's capital design was not inclusive, as it benefited only one region. But farmers who had pooled their land for the previous masterplan have been protesting against the three-site capital project.

Amaravati was the pet project of the state's former chief minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, who had promised to model the city after Singapore. Mr Naidu had also devised a unique method of acquiring land from locals, called the land-pooling system. It offered farmers a developed plot in the future city as payment for their land.

Since the idea of a modern hi-tech city was conceived eight years ago, 13,932ha were pooled from about 29,000 farmers in the fertile riverside region, but the lack of investor interest, political rivalries, farmers' protests, environmental concerns and corruption allegations have severely delayed the project.

In May 2019, Mr Naidu lost the state election to his rival Mr Reddy, from the YSR Congress Party, which has long been critical of the capital project.

Mr Reddy stopped most construction work in Amaravati, citing lack of funds and corruption in the ongoing projects.

Today, administrative buildings, quarters and accommodation for high court judges and arterial roads around it all stand partially built. The state secretariat is no more than a large foundation pit. A few dozen farmers who refused to pool their land continue to farm vegetables and fruits.

The court order said the state did not have "legislative competence" to establish three capitals, must develop roads, drinking water, drainage and electricity within one month in Amaravati, and return developed plots to farmers in three months.

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