Andhra Pradesh: Chandrababu Naidu embarks on a bumpy ride

The most important challenge before Naidu is to revive his dream Amaravati capital city project that had been shelved by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government

Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (photo: Getty)
Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (photo: Getty)

Suresh Dharur

In the mid-1990s coalition era, Nara Chandrababu Naidu was the cynosure of national politics for being a ‘kingmaker’ who drove a hard political bargain, be it in the United Front or the NDA-1 formation.

Nearly three decades and several political ups and downs later, the septuagenarian leader is a mellower man, prioritising his home state’s interests over national ambitions.

Contrary to initial expectations that his Telugu Desam Party (TDP)—whose support is crucial for the stability of the NDA 3.0— would push for plum posts, including the Lok Sabha Speaker’s, the regional party has been rather subdued.

Despite being the NDA’s biggest pre-poll ally with 16 MPs, it has settled for a modest share of two cabinet berths. “Naidu has inherited a crisis-ridden state from his reckless predecessor Jagan Mohan Reddy. What he desperately needs now is liberal Central funding to implement his dream projects rather than positions of power at the Centre,” says political analyst Ramesh Kandula.

Undoubtedly, the most important challenge before Naidu is to revive his dream Amaravati capital city project. A decade after bifurcation and losing Hyderabad to Telangana, Andhra Pradesh still has no capital city of its own.

The initial project (with technical know-how and seed money from the Singapore government) was estimated to cost Rs 50,000 crore. This might have doubled by now, say experts, while the enthusiasm of the Singapore government has waned.

In his earlier stint from 2014 to 2019, Naidu envisaged Amaravati in the Vijaywada–Guntur region as a world-class capital city. Under the land pooling scheme, farmers from nearly 30 villages voluntarily surrendered about 34,000 acres for the project. In return, they were promised developed residential plots of land (800 to 1,200 square yards each) and 100 to 450 square yards of commercial land in the layouts developed by the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA).

As part of the MoU, three prospective masterplans—for the capital region, the capital city and seed capital—were submitted by Singapore-based company Surbana Jurong to develop a greenfield city on the south bank of the Krishna river.

Just before Naidu’s term ended in 2019, a CRDA note revealed that the total cost of phase-1 was Rs 51,687 crore, of which Rs 39,875 crore had been used on the ground. Soon after storming to power in the 2019 elections, Jagan Mohan Reddy made it clear that he was not in favour of Amaravati as the location for the new capital.

Instead, his government proposed a ‘three capital plan’ with the coastal city of Visakhapatnam as the executive capital, Kurnool as the judicial capital and Amaravati as the legislative capital. For all practical purposes, Visakhapatnam would be the main capital, while Kurnool and Amaravati would only have symbolic value.

Naidu’s challenge is to restart the work that came to a grinding halt during Jagan’s tenure. “In the last few years, the TDP and its allies have been saying that Amaravati will be the only capital city; they went to the polls with the same slogan. While it may present challenges, a renewed focus can lead to success,” said senior journalist and publisher Rama Krishna Sangem.

With Naidu securing an unprecedented mandate—the TDP won 135 seats in the 175-member assembly—investor sentiment is expected to be restored. “Since the TDP is a key member of the NDA, the Centre will not hesitate to release funds. Moreover, APCRDA independently generated a majority of the funds. Amaravati does not require much government funding, but it certainly requires special attention,” political analyst A. Krishna Rao points out.

According to sources in the chief minister’s office, the cash-starved government is considering floating ‘Amaravati Bonds’ once again to raise funds. In 2018, it had issued these bonds which fetched nearly Rs 2,000 crore. As per the AP Reorganisation Act,the Centre shall provide financial support for the creation of essential facilities in the new capital.

However, until now, it has released only Rs 1,500 crore for the purpose.


Dam of discontent

Another major challenge before Naidu, in his fourth term as CM, is to complete the multi-purpose Polavaram project. Being built across the Godavari to provide irrigation facilities to over seven lakh acres of farmland in coastal Andhra, besides producing 960 MW power, the central government accorded Polavaram national project status as per assurances given at the time of bifurcation ten years ago.

However, with the TDP and YSR Congress blaming each other for the inordinate delay in its execution, it has not moved. The previous estimate of Rs 55,548 crore, based on 2017–2018 prices levels, can only have shot up.

Polavaram dam on the Godavari river
Polavaram dam on the Godavari river

Releasing a white paper recently, Chandrababu Naidu alleged that the project was pushed into deep uncertainty because of the omissions and commissions of the previous YSRCP government. “Due to inefficient planning and unnecessary changes in the executing agency, the project was rescheduled to be completed by June 2021. Later, the completion schedule was extended to June 2022 and then again to June 2023,” Naidu said.

The chief minister also alleged that the previous regime had diverted more than Rs 3,385.58 crore released by the Centre. The decision of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government to allot the work to a new contractor in the name of reverse tendering led to avoidable chaos.

Apart from funding constraints, Polavaram may also face objections from neighbouring states. The Odisha and Chhattisgarh governments have already moved the courts against the project, citing submergence of their land.


Rebranding welfare schemes

With the change of guard after the recent polls, major welfare schemes are being rebranded and rechristened to reflect the new political reality. The social welfare department secretary K. Harsha Vardhan issued orders to rename as many as six welfare schemes by removing the prefixes ‘Jagananna’ and his father, the late YSR.

Accordingly, ‘Jagananna Vidya Deevena’ is now the Post Matric Scholarship (Refundable Tuition Fee) and ‘JaganannaVasathi Deevena’ the Post Matric Scholarships (Maintenance Fee). ‘JaganannaVideshi Vidya Deevena’ has been renamed Ambedkar Overseas Vidya Nidhi, while ‘Jagananna Civil Services Protsahakam’ has been changed to Incentives for Civil Services Exams scheme.

The government also directed that all passbooks and beneficiary cards for various schemes and certificates issued by the government at district and block levels be reprinted by removing Jagan’s picture and YSRCP colours.


Pension payments on the up and up

Chief minister Naidu disbursed about Rs 4,500 crore to 65 lakh pensioners across the state this week. As part of his ‘super six’ guarantees, pensions have been increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 for the elderly, widows, weavers, toddy-tappers, fishermen, single women, traditional cobblers, transgenders, artists, dappu artistes and patients undergoing antiretroviral therapy.

In the first month in office alone, the expenditure is about Rs 10,000 crore. While an additional reimbursement of around Rs 2,000 crore per annum is due to the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation for offering free bus rides to women.

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