The legislature, earlier this week, passed the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Act, under which, Amravati will be the legislative capital; Visakhapatnam and Kurnool will be the executive and judicial capitals, respectively.
Given how vital cities are for economic growth—in India, cities contribute anywhere between 59% and 70% of the GDP—the Andhra Pradesh government deciding to have three capitals would seem a boost to urbanisation. The legislature, earlier this week, passed the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Equal Development of All Regions Act, under which, Amravati will be the legislative capital; Visakhapatnam and Kurnool will be the executive and judicial capitals, respectively. The decision breathes new life into the Amaravati project—the Jagan Reddy government had all but scrapped this; given how tens of thousands of crores of investment was at stake, any move to even partly resuscitate the project should be welcome. However, the government really needs to take stock of what it stands to gain, and what the costs would be.
Decentralisation has been the theme of the recommendations of many past committees—indeed, in 2010, the Justice BN Srikrishna committee, set up to look into the demand for separate statehood for Telangana, had noted that concentration of resources in Hyderabad was one of the reasons behind the demand—and even the Boston Consulting Group. However, the hard fact is Visakhapatnam, which will house the secretariat and the Raj Bhavan, is 700 km from Kurnool, and 400 km from Amaravati. And, Amaravati and Kurnool are 370 km apart. To give a speech at the state legislature, the Governor will have to travel 400 km. With the state police headquarter at Mangalagiri, 14 km from Vijaywada, senior police officials will have to travel 400 km to be at the secretariat. And, given how often litigation matters require administrative and police staff to depose, bureaucrats posted in Visakhapatnam and police officers posted in Mangalagiri will be travelling some 700 and 330 km, respectively. The travel bill will be significant, and the inefficiencies of such Tughlaq-esque capital division will chip away gains of the intended evenly-spread development.
Whether Reddy’s rival, former CM Chandrababu Naidu’s choice of Amaravati as a greenfield capital was merited is debatable—the project has been criticised for massive corruption, and the fact that Vijaywada, a commercial and political nerve centre, is just 18 km away. But, studies show that cities that come up around existing metros benefit from a symbiotic relationship. In the case of Visakhapatnam, the state government has already been clarified there are no immediate plans to invest since there are enough existing government buildings to serve the needs of an executive capital; the intended even spreading of development is already off to a rather skewed start. If the state really wanted even development, it should have simply made it attractive and easier for the private sector to invest—both Mysuru and Pune aren’t adjunct capitals, but have thrived due private sector investment in education, IT/ITeS, etc. Instead, the scrapping of the Amaravati project saw World Bank and a Singapore-based consortium walk out. If Andhra Pradesh is made to pay the price of political rivalries, then the even spread of development looks a distant dream.