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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Protesting for 800 days, Amaravati farmers erupt in joy

Amaravati erupted in celebrations on Thursday after Andhra Pradesh High Court pronounced its judgment on petitions challenging Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government’s decision to create three state capitals.

Raising slogans of ‘Jai Amaravati’, farmers of the region burst crackers and distributed sweets to hail the court order.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra directed the government to complete implementation of Amaravati capital city master plan in six months.

The court also asked the government to hand over developed plots with all basic amenities to farmers within three months. The government was also asked not to alienate lands in Amaravati for any work other than development of the state capital.

Farmers and women, who have been agitating for over 800 days, welcomed the judgment as victory of truth and justice. A group of women bowed down to thank the judiciary for upholding the justice.

“Over 200 people have lost their lives in this protest due to a wrong decision by the government. At least now, the government should shed its arrogance and resume developing Amaravati as the only state capital,” one of the women said.

Farmers said the court verdict has come as a big relief for them as they were losing hopes of getting justice. They demanded that the Jagan Mohan Reddy government respect the court order and implement it without challenging it in the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid foundation stone for Amaravati on October 22, 2015. Then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had grand plans to develop the capital.

With nine theme cities, and 27 townships, Amaravati on the banks of Krishna river was planned in an area of 217 square km as a world-class city.

The Singapore government had made free master plan for capital region, capital city and seed area. It was designed not merely as an administrative capital but as an economic and job creating hub and tourism centre.

The project then attracted the attention of investors from countries like Australia, Japan, Germany, Singapore and Britain.

After coming to power in 2019, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) reversed the decision of the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government to develop Amaravati as the only state capital.

Jagan Mohan Reddy declared that Amaravati, a Rs 2 lakh crore project, was not his priority.

The new government had put on hold all the works in Amaravati, citing the irregularities committed by the previous government in awarding contracts.

The construction activity came to a grinding halt creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, leading to a big slump in land prices. The World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) were first to pull out of a project to fund Amaravati’s development.

Later, a consortium of Singapore companies closed Amaravati Capital City Startup Project, the agreement for which was signed during the TDP rule. The government said they mutually decided to cancel the project as the consortium had failed to respond to the concerns raised.

Later, Jagan Mohan Reddy announced that Visakhapatnam will be developed as administrative capital and Kurnool as judicial capital while Amaravati will serve as only legislative capital.

This triggered massive protest from farmers in 29 villages of Amaravati, who had given 33,000 acres of land for the capital and were hoping to reap its economic benefits.

The government’s decision had shattered dreams of 24,000 farmers who had voluntarily given lands ranging from half-an-acre to 50 acres.

For every acre of cultivable land the farmers were promised 1000 square yards of residential plot and 250 square yards of commercial plot with all the infrastructure. Almost all the farmers received the allotment papers but their dreams of owning developed plots remained on paper with the change of guard. They were also promised Rs 50,000 annuity per acre with an annual hike of 10 per cent.

In January 2020, the Andhra Pradesh Decentralization and Inclusive Development of all Regions Bill 2020 and the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Repeal Bill 2020 were passed by the Assembly to create three capitals.

The Opposition TDP which had a majority in the 58-member Council stalled them and got them referred to a Select Committee.

However, officials refused to constitute the Select Committee on the ground that the decision of the then chairman of the Council M.A. Shariff was not in line with the rules.

Even as Amaravati farmers and others moved to the High Court, the Bills were passed by the Assembly for the second time on June 16, 2020. Though they were not passed by the Legislative Council, they were considered as ‘deemed to be passed’ as per Clause 2 of Article 197 of the Constitution as one month had elapsed after their introduction in the Upper House of the state legislature.

On July 31, 2020, Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan signed the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Repeal Bill 2020 and Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill 2020, paving the way for trifurcation of the state capital.

The repeal of the APCRDA, which was created for development of Amaravati as the state capital, had led to formation of the Amaravati Metropolitan Region Development Authority (AMRDA).

Several farmers moved the High Court challenging the two Bills on the ground that they were not passed in accordance with the rules.

Even as more than 75 petitions were being heard by the high court, the government in November last year repealed the two laws but made it clear that it has not gone back on its decision to develop three capitals.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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