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India: Move to Shift Capital in Andhra . . . State government must have democratic dialogue with those agitating in the Amaravati region - Press statement by Human Rights Forum | 13 Jan 2020

13 January

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Human Rights Forum (HRF)

Press Release

The reported decision of the AP Government to shift the capital of the State outside Amaravati has merit. This is because the social and environmental costs of a mammoth capital city like the one embarked on by the TDP government at Amaravati are too high. We stated this at the time of the release of the Sivaramakrishnan report in 2014 and we reiterate now. This city was to be constructed on an abundantly fertile river floodplain, on wetlands and in an area that is also a seismic zone. It was a veritable nightmare in the making. Moreover, it is common knowledge that the entire exercise by the TDP government to construct this mega capital was mired in multiple illegalities and dubious transactions. It was a unilateral decision, without eliciting any public opinion.

In the matter of responding to agitations, the present government is treading the path of its predecessor. Section 144 CrPC is being clamped and prohibitory orders under Section 30 of the Police Act are being promulgated the moment there is a protest. This is highly objectionable. We condemn the use of excessive and totally unwarranted force by police on farmers in the Amaravati area. The State government must initiate a democratic dialogue with those agitating in the Amaravati region instead of adopting an adversarial position. We understand that the entire exercise of reverting the land to landowners is a cumbersome process and in some instances next to impossible. However, that does not diminish the responsibility of the State government to find an amicable and just solution to this issue. Justice must be done in a comprehensive manner to those who have suffered because of the deeds of the earlier government. The concerns of the small and marginal farmers and landless labourers and dalits must be given priority.

The present government seems bent on repeating mistakes of the past. The whole exercise of a new capital (or capitals) in being carried out in a highly opaque manner. This is a historic opportunity to correct many mistakes that have been made in the past. An important exercise like this entails widespread consultation with the people.
There has also not been any transparency. For instance, several reports on the issue including that of the Boston Consulting Group are not even available in the public domain. Why should there be any secrecy, confusion and uncertainty on a seminal matter that concerns the State and our future generations? Instead of transparency, what we are being subjected to on a daily basis are cavalier and nonchalant announcements regarding the capital issue by senior ruling party functionaries and ministers. There is no official pronouncement yet. Ruling party and Opposition leaders indulging in mutual recrimination and abuse, duly echoed by their respective media, has become the order of the day.

Human Rights Forum (HRF) calls upon the government not to repeat mistakes of the past. We feel a centralised Secretariat at Visakhapatnam, or for that matter anywhere else, is undesirable. Rather, there must be several mini-Secretariats dispersed across the State. There will not be constraints of governance given availability of existing technology, if properly and suitably deployed. Particular care must be taken to ensure that there is no lopsided and skewed development. It must not be concentrated only in a few urban agglomerations. Focus should be accorded to the needs of backward and underdeveloped regions. Decentralisation, transparency and accountability ought to be the cardinal principles. What must unfold is decentralisation of both governance and development in a real and substantive manner, not merely dressed up as rhetoric.
The idea prevalent in some circles that development will coalesce around big cities is a historical fallacy. There are ample examples of how this deeply centralised model has led to enclaves of prosperity at the cost of large backward regions and the ghettoising of the hinterland. Development has to be inclusive and people-centric, not merely tailored to the enrichment of a privileged few in select territories. There must be distributive justice in the matter of sharing of resources. Real development must not devastate lives of the marginalised, recklessly poach upon scarce resources like land and water and lay waste to the environment.

Whether in the matter of setting up mini-Secretariats, or any other activity, HRF opposes any damage to agriculture, displacement of people and loss of livelihoods. Such consequences corrode our democracy. Frugality, and not extravagance, has to be the guiding principle.

We feel the High Court must come up in Rayalaseema and ideally in a relatively central location. Two HC benches, one in Visakhapatnam and the other in the Vijayawada-Guntur region, must be simultaneously constituted and not at some future date. All of this must be preceded by a much wider consultative process that takes in feedback from the people in a truly meaningful sense. Given the importance of this exercise, the public must be taken into full confidence by the government. So far there has been no such endeavour. There is no tearing hurry to rush the whole process through in the manner the government presently seems to be doing.

HRF is of the opinion that there is also a pressing need to reduce the geographical area of each district in order to better facilitate government functionaries to engage with people and address issues comprehensively. Many, if not all existing districts are very large and unwieldy. A reorganisation of districts by creating not less than three districts from each of the existing ones has been long overdue. It will bring administration closer to the people. This will certainly help in better and effective monitoring and implementation of welfare schemes, so that they reach the needy.

VS Krishna & A Chandrasekhar (HRF AP&TS Coordination Committee members)

13.1.2020 Visakhapatnam