Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vijayawada as new Capital...

The following article was published in Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.
As was widely expected, the Andhra Pradesh Government, led by Chandrababu Naidu, has announced in the State Assembly on Thursday that the new capital of Andhra Pradesh will be built around the city of Vijayawada. Speculation was on for a long time that this will be the most widely accepted choice. The 20-page statement of Chandrababu Naidu deals comprehensively with detailed plans for all districts.
A brief history before we get into the statement – In her unexplained urgency to split the State, Sonia Gandhi did not bother to announce a new capital for the State of Andhra Pradesh. As was the wont of the UPA, they set up a committee, headed by Sivaramakrishnan (former Urban Development secretary) to recommend the best city that can become a capital.
All this while, there was near unanimous opinion that the new capital city should not be a centralised one like Hyderabad. Over-dependency on Hyderabad is what precipitated the crisis of bifurcation — something that the new State of Andhra Pradesh will have to cope with. Contrary to some people’s argument that Chandrababu Naidu concentrated only on Hyderabad, it is my view that the fault for relying excessively on Hyderabad lies with the Congress. Naidu lost power way back in 2004, when he was still setting up the new Hi-Tech City. There was no way to have started decentralisation at that point of time. Congress, in power since 2004, set up every notable institute only in Hyderabad ever since – even the Ocean Studies institute is in Hyderabad!
Anyways, learning from the mistakes of the past, people wanted this Government to decentralise the operations of the State Government across the State. This is also what the Sivaramakrishnan committee broadly recommended too. The committee has chosen five benchmarks to study the viability of various cities in AP:
1. Availability of Water
2. Scope of Natural Calamities
3. Connectivity
4. Land availability
5. Regional development (around the city)
Vijayawada scores high on 4 out of the above 5 points. The river Krishna flows through the city. Vijayawada is a major railway junction, and is centrally located. The city is reachable within 4-8 hours from various parts of the State through bus or rail. It also has a regional airport which, given the new status now, might get upgraded to international. The city is metropolitan in nature too, and the income levels are comparable to any decent city. However, the place where Vijayawada doesn’t meet the criteria is the land availability. There is a shortage of availability of Government lands.
Here is where the wording of the statement becomes crucial – it is proposed to develop the region around Vijayawada as the capital of the State. Guntur is another town that is very close to Vijayawada. The problem of land availability is not as severe. The plan of the Government is to develop the Vijayawada-Guntur-Tenali-Mangalagiri stretch as the capital region, but that is very long-term (~10 years as stipulated by the Act). However, there is also criticism that this region was chosen only because of land mafia! Ever since the speculation started on this being the capital, land rates have increased manifold. And since a lot of big shots will suffer losses, the government had even more reason to choose this region!
While there might be some truth to that story, this region trumps all other regions on various other parameters too, as is evident from the committee report. However, the focus of the Government is not just on developing the capital alone. Chandrababu Naidu has a detailed a plan for every single district in the State. Broadly, he has proposed/promised the following to almost all districts:
1. Three Mega cities (Vizag, Vijayawada and Tirupati)
2. A total of 14 smart cities spread across 13 districts.
3. A total of 14 airports for these 14 smart cities!
4. Industrial parks to some of the cities (includes manufacturing hub, electronics hub, IT hub, cement industry at various places)
5. To add 10 more ports to the existing 4 ports in AP, thereby making the state a logistics hub.
6. Food parks (to some district headquarters a.k.a smart cities).
7. One institution of excellence per smart city too – for example, A school of Architecture to one city, Fine Arts academy to another, IIM, IISc; AIIMS; Petroleum University etc)
8. Various pending irrigation projects to be completed on priority to all the 14 districts.
9. To utilize the mineral wealth of the Rayalaseema region.
10. Metro rail to the 3 Mega cities
Overall, the vision looks very good. Some look over the top too (the 14 airports, for example).
However, it was very important that such a document came out of the earliest, and the TDP Government has definitely scored well on this count. The direction is now clear – we know what priority has been set for each district headquarter. The next biggest challenge is to overcome the huge revenue deficit (Nearly Rs 15,000 crore) and move ahead with the massive plans that have been envisaged. Another challenge is the farm loan waiver – a burden of nearly Rs 35,000 crore. It is obviously not going to be an easy path. Naidu must know it better than any one of us. He will try his best to complete in the next four years, whatever he thinks will give him a second majority in 2019.


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