An eerie silence reigns in the 29 villages of Amaravati, which once bustled with round-the-clock construction activity, as uncertainty balloons around the capital city project.
A drive through the villages shows groups of residents, most of whom are farmers who had parted with their lands for the capital, perched on benches under trees in conversations.
While these conversations are general in nature, they eventually lead to the present impasse over Amaravati.
Most may appear calm but the farmers are spending sleepless nights, say Jonnalagadda Manoj Kumar and Karumanchi Narendra from Velagapudi. Manoj’s and Narendra’s families had given 30 acres and six acres respectively to the state government under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS).
“All the works have been stopped. Even the projects which are in the last stage of construction are now stalled,” they add, pointing to the houses being built for officials. The G+12 quarters are 70 per cent ready, the farmers note.
“We don’t know if the works will ever be resumed. Neither do we know if the promises made to us would be honoured,” they say.
The farmers’ apprehensions are not unfounded as a 20,000-strong workforce was working day and night a few months ago to build the ‘largest greenfield smart city’. But now, with the contractors disbanding their paraphernalia, the workers’ colonies wear a deserted look as men and women have long left for other cities. Several project sites remain locked.
The only indication that a massive construction activity took place a few months ago are the mounds of construction material, fragmented concrete structures, machinery and vehicles lying stationary at the worksites, which, four years ago, were lush green fertile lands cultivating three crops a year. All because the new dispensation announced the cancellation of the projects with no plan for mobilising funds required to execute them.
“There is complete silence everywhere. Our future hangs in the balance as we trusted in the state government, not a party, and gave lands,” says G Venkat Rao, another farmer from Nelapadu, with a sigh. Rao, who had also given his land under LPS, is now working as a security guard for the contracting agency picked for building the ‘permanent’ High Court.
Perhaps the silence stems from the fact that the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government, which decisively moved ahead in issues pertaining to the Polavaram project and renewable power purchase agreements, has been keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to Amaravati, the brainchild of former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.
Even though the new state government has not made any specific statement that it would not continue the development of Amaravati, the ‘will the government or won’t the government take forward the capital project' question is looming large in not just the farmers’ but also the investors’ minds. With the Chief Minister himself dubbing Amaravati a huge scam and alleging insider trading, the concerns are only growing.
Even those from Undavalli and Penumaka, the defiant villages which opposed the TDP government’s plan to acquire large parcels of land and did not participate in LPS, are of the opinion that the government shouldn’t have stalled the project.
“We fought against procurement of thousands of acres of fertile land, but not the location of the capital. If insider trading really happened here as alleged by the YSRC, the government should punish the scamsters. Identify them and don’t give returnable plots to them. But capital should be developed here as it is important for economic growth and creation of jobs,” Guntaka Naresh Reddy from Penumaka reasons.
He also points out that the real estate sector, into which several farmers ventured after giving their lands to the government, took a massive beating due to the new government’s decisions.
The farmers also are irate over Municipal Administration and Urban Development minister Botcha Satyanarayana’s remarks over Amaravati being submergence-prone.
“The ministers are lying to suit their narrative. Let them visit this area and show us one village which would be submerged due to floods,” challenges a farmer, requesting anonymity, from Uddandarayunipalem, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited in October 2015, to lay the foundation for Amaravati.
“If flooding is the problem, the government can identify an area in this region, which is not flood affected. We are sure there will be at least 1,500 to 2,000 acres out of the 53,000 acres under government disposal suitable for construction,” Naresh Reddy suggests. The government procured about 33,000 acres under LPS, while the rest is government land.
The state government’s decisions on Amaravati have unleashed a slugfest between political parties.
“The YSRC is in power now. Let it investigate insider trading, as it alleged, and press charges. Without doing that, how can the works be stalled? The claims of the ministers that it would cost double to construct a capital here are false. It will be 10-15 per cent higher than in other areas, but it is worthwhile as it would be a riverfront capital. The payback will also be manifold,” TDP MP from Guntur Galla Jayadev argues.
The BJP too disagrees with the way the Jagan government is handling the capital issue. It doesn’t see any merit in the allegations of insider trading as the government hasn’t proven it despite being in office for 100 days.
“The BJP certainly won’t support Jagan’s government in its process to stall the capital. Public money has already been spent here and relocating it would be like what Tughlaq did with Daulatabad. The YSRC had published a book on Chandrababu Naidu, alleging he was the emperor of corruption, months before the election. But, even after being in power for three months, it is still acting like an Opposition party and resorting to just allegations. We will support YSRC if it exposes the corruption, but not if it does a Tughlaq move,” the BJP Vijayawada MP candidate in 2019 polls, Kilaru Dilip, says.
The public, however, appears to be on the fence. While they concur that stalling the capital would severely impact the growth of the service sector, which gradually saw a spurt since the announcement of the capital, they also seem to support the idea of decentralisation.
“It is good if the government clarifies its stand on Amaravati as soon as possible. The business prospects shot up in the last five years, but there has been a decline for the last few months. If it further drops, what will happen to us?” asks S Krishna Sai, a retail businessman from Vijayawada.
G Sudeep, a civil contractor from Vijayawada, echoes the views but welcomes the idea of decentralisation.
“There is uncertainty around Amaravati as the state government cancelled several projects. This may affect the investments coming to the state, which already has no capital. The state government is said to be planning for a decentralised government. We welcome the move. But the existing problems should be solved first,” he says.
With a lot of hullabaloo around the capital, all that the stakeholders want is a clear statement from Chief Minister Jagan.
“Let the Chief Minister announce the government’s plans instead of his ministers beating around the bush,” everyone we spoke to demands.
Project Amaravati in numbers
No. of works awarded: 68
Total contract value of awarded works: Rs 35,847.02 crore
Amount spent so far: Around Rs 8,000 crore
Progress of works:
Over 50 per cent: 8
25-50 per cent: 13
Less than 25 per cent: 47 (including 20 < one per cent works)
The YSRC government ordered the cancellation of those which achieved less than 25 per cent
Loans taken so far:
Institutional Bonds from markets: Rs 2000 crore
HUDCO: Rs 1,275 crore
Vijaya, Indian, and Andhra Banks Consortium: Rs 2,060 crore
Grants: Centre has given Rs 1,500 crore so far, another Rs 1,000 crore approved for sanction
Estimated cost for building Amaravati in entirety as proposed by the TDP government: Rs 1.09 lakh crore