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Above: Many illegalities went into the land acquisition and planning of Amaravati/Photo: amaravatiforum.com

The shocking illegalities being perpetrated in the name of building this capital-city have led to farmers losing valuable agricultural land and courts failing to do their duties

~By MG Devasahayam

In a blatant instance of lawlessness, to which even the courts have turned a blind eye, Amaravati, the new capital of Andhra Pradesh, has become a dream turned sour. A prosperous agri-ecosystem and peasant economy were destroyed to promote predators in the real estate business. And all that remains of AP’s “Singapore” are some bumpy roads and buildings and heavy machines digging up the place.

The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act came into existence on March 1, 2014, and a separate state of Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh. Having lost Hyderabad to Telangana, AP was to build an administrative capital in 10 years. As funding this was the responsibility of the Government of India, it constituted an expert committee headed by KC Sivaramakrishnan, former secretary, urban development, to study various alternatives for locating the capital.

The Terms of Reference for the committee included: least possible dislocation to existing agriculture systems; minimum resettlement of people and their habitations; preservation of local ecology and natural features, including water bodies; promoting environmentally sustainable growth; vulnerability assessment of natural disasters and minimising the cost of construction and acquisition of land.

The committee submitted its report on August 27, 2014. Being a “food bowl”, the committee was against urbanising the Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri (VGTM) region, particularly the fertile multi-crop area on the Krishna riverfront. The committee did not favour a greenfield capital city immediately for AP and opined that if the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP) wanted to pursue this option, it would have to carry out a careful search for locations where suitably large parcels of government or non-farm land may be available. With high-rise-high-density design and technology adoption, an administrative city of about one million population (what Chandigarh is today) could be built on less than 5,000 acres.

GoAP junked the committee and its report and constituted a group of politicians and real-estate businessmen to advise it on the setting and size of the Rajdhani. Accordingly, on December 30, 2014, GoAP enacted the AP Capital Region Development Authority Act, 2014 (CRDA Act), arrogating to itself the power to declare a capital city and capital region area. And acting with supersonic speed on that very day, the GoAP notified about 7,068 sq km (17,45,800 acres) as capital region and 122 sq km (30,140 acres) in Phase I as capital city in the very VGTM area that the central committee had specifically recommended against!

GoAP had neither done any stake-holder consultation nor prepared a Feasibility Report or a Social/Environmental Impact Assessment. There were only pompous statements by AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu that he would create a “Singapore” to fulfil “people’s aspirations”!

It was thus that the Amaravati Rajdhani project, which Naidu calls “People’s Capital”, came about on arguably the most fertile farming land in the country, wherein around 120 varieties of crops are grown throughout the year except for 10 days when the land is ploughed. The area also had a vibrant agro-economy of Rs 1,000 crore per year, with complete linkages from farm to market, mostly led by women entrepreneurs.

Though the dream and ambition were huge, GoAP did not have the means or resources to even attempt to build a massive 3.5 million population Rajdhani comprising nine cities—media, sports, government, justice, finance, knowledge, tourism, electronics and health—which was estimated to cost upwards of `4 lakh crore. Therefore, GoAP decided to make the project a brazen model of real estate business. Thus was born the outlandish idea of grabbing 34,000 acres under the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) notified in the Andhra Pradesh Capital City Land Pooling Scheme (Formation and Implementation) Rules, 2015, dated January 1, 2015.

A genuine LPS is a voluntary process to assemble small parcels of urban/urban fringe land without paying cash compensation to owners. Such lands are put to urban use and in barter, some “developed” plots are allotted to the original owners with the right to alienate. The pooling authority retains a portion of the assembled lands, applying them partly to provide civic amenities and the remainder for public sale to recover the cost of development. The main imperatives of such LPS are: Financial viability with projects of manageable size; preparation and publication of a pooling scheme for each project in consultation with landowners and each scheme/project being supported by a financial plan. None of these features are present in the Amaravati LPS.

The LPS in vogue is a perverted business model wherein farmers give their land in barter for future “developed” plots. GoAP with public money “develops” urban plots by providing physical and social infrastructure, low-cost housing, parks, gardens, playgrounds, etc., on 50 percent of the land. Private real estate dealers called “development entities” do business with the 50 percent “developed urban plots” and make windfall profits without any investment or risk.

To seduce the farmers into surrendering their land, CRDA announced an attractive barter offer of giving them residential (800-1,000 sq yards) and commercial (200-300 sq yards) plots per acre. Landowners would get statutory Land Pooling Ownership Certificate (LPOC) with alienable rights. Physical possession of the plots would be given within one year of issue of LPOC with registration free of cost. Complete development of the scheme area was promised within three years of issue of LPOC, i.e. 2018. AP’s “Singapore” would come up within five years of pooling the land (2020) and these LPOCs could be sold for windfall gains. The price projected was around Rs 75,000 per square yard, meaning  Rs 7.5 crore per acre against the prevailing farmland price of Rs 25 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.

To facilitate this marauding, the Government of India (GoI) proclaimed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, on December 31, the very next day after enacting the CRDA Act. The Ordinance effectively nullified Chapter II (determination of social impact and public purpose) and Chapter III (special provision to safeguard food security). These two chapters are the body and soul of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re­settlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act). This ordinance, proclaimed twice, was later aborted due to stiff public opposition.

The objective of GoAP was to pool/assemble/acquire prime, waterfront farmlands and hand them over to commercial/real estate companies to make windfall profits. It was for this purpose that Section 2 (10) of the CRDA Act mandated “developer entity” that includes “an individual, company or association or body of individuals whether incorporated or not, a cooperative society, a corporate body, or an agency, national or international, to whom a licence is given to undertake development works within the framework of a plan or development scheme duly approved under this Act”.

In order to intimidate and coerce the hapless landowners, particularly small and marginal ones, GoAP deliberately incorporated Section 126 in the CRDA Act, which said: “Any land required, reserved or designated in any development plan shall be deemed to be the land needed for public purpose within the meaning of the LARR Act and may be acquired by the government on the request by the Authority or other authority or functional unit.” Incidentally, “public purpose” under Section 2 of LARR Act does not include even small township projects, let alone Amaravati which is an “ultramodern mega-city”. It was a real estate charade.

Sensing failure of this charade and LPS, GoAP recently drastically amended the LARR Act, incorporating the provisions of the aborted GoI ordinance, making the voluntary LPS coercive and compulsory and exempting transactions under it from registration. This was done in panic because out of about 32,500 acres surrendered under LPS so far, only about 6,000 acres have been registered in favour of CRDA, the majority of them through questionable documents. The fact that this amendment has received the assent of the president shows that in this grand deception of the farming community, the GoI and GoAP are hand-in-glove.

We have seen how GoAP violated/ torpedoed the AP Reorganisation and LARR Acts. The Environmental Protection Act also was not spared. Being Category A, the State Environmental Impact Assessment Agency, Andhra Pradesh, was not empowered to grant environmental clearance for the project. Yet, this is what they precisely did by stipulating 90 conditions as if to cover the illegality with a fig leaf.

And the Union ministry of environment and forests played ball!

All these illegalities were challenged in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal. Tragically, these institutions, meant to uphold the rule of law, stood by the law-breakers and not the people who were the victims. NGT even refused to define and earmark the floodplains which are the most critical element in a riverine ecology.

In the event, a vibrant agri-ecosystem and farmer economy stands destroyed only to promote a predatory project and real estate business. Even then, the dream city “Singapore”, to be delivered in 2020, is nowhere in existence, barring some bumpy roads, buildings and heavy machines digging all over the place!

Amaravati is a disaster already. No world-class city is going to come up anytime. Maybe some structures, mostly high-rise, may come up. At best Amaravati would become a “Ghost City” like about 20 in China.

What a travesty.

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