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'Unpardonable sin to build a city on the banks of a river!'

By Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com
February 23, 2015 13:32 IST
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Vijaywada'They are acquiring agricultural land almost free of cost promising an illusory rise which is worse than a chit fund scheme.'

'When I went there on a fact-finding mission, we found that one third of the land they plan to acquire is the best agricultural land in the country.

MG Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer and the man who was in charge of planning Chandigarh, was in Andhra Pradesh recently leading a fact finding team of the National Alliance of People's Movements, NAPM, to 29 villages in the state's new proposed capital region.

The team met with affected farmers and agricultural labourers, local body representatives, leaders of farmer unions and local activists of community-based organisations.

The committee also heard the views of farmer union leaders, political party representatives and civil society groups.

Devasahayam tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com how disturbed the team members were after meeting the affected villagers.

How do you look at N Chandrababu Naidu's idea of acquiring 30,000 acres of land on the banks of the river Krishna to build a new capital?

Remember, he was not talking about 30,000 bricks; he was talking about 30,000 acres of agricultural land.

My first question is -- for what do you need 30,000 acres of land?

What kind of a capital are you planning to build and for whom?

When someone plans to build a house, the first thing he would think of is, how many people are going to live in the house and what kind of facilities or reasonable comfort they need.

For a small family of four, you don't need a 5 bedroom house and for a joint family of 15, 20 people, you will need more bedrooms. You will decide the size of the plot according to your needs.

You don't need 10 acres of land to build a house for a family of four.

Most importantly, you have to decide whether you have the income to maintain the house. These are the basic things anyone should look into while building a house.

Here, you are talking about a state capital and nothing, not even a feasibility study was done. What you need first is a need analysis.

The Sivaramakrishnan committee report set up by the Government of India under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act says there is no need to build a new capital!

Sivaramakrishnan is a very senior IAS officer and an urban planning specialist. There were 3, 4 very eminent city planners also in the committee. So, the need analysis finds that there is no need for a new capital.

In a project of such magnitude, there has to be an environmental analysis study to analyse the project's impact on air, water and the flora and fauna but nothing of that sort also was done.

What was your first reaction when you heard about this?

I was shocked. They are cheating people. What will happen now is that real estate speculation will artificially increase the land price.

Land that was sold for Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) is already worth Rs 1 to 2 crores (Rs 10 million to Rs 20 million) now; all because of artificial land speculation.

The land mafia is taking advantage of this. They are luring farmers by telling them that their farming land would have no value soon.

Don't you think the biggest crime they are committing is converting irrigated land into an urban jungle?

That is the biggest crime -- that too they are doing by cheating poor farmers who have 1 to 2 acres of land. They are in fact, acquiring agricultural land almost free of cost promising an illusory rise which is worse than a chit fund scheme.

At least in chit funds, you are giving money but here, it is your land, which you will never be able to get back.

When I went there on a fact finding mission, we found that one third of the land they plan to acquire is the best agricultural land in the country. It is a multi crop land where the farmers harvest around 100 varieties of crops.

Why do you think they have brought all the planning experts from Singapore?

I think it is a major black money transaction that is happening from Singapore. Today, Singapore is one of the black money havens in the world. The earlier havens have vanished and they are replaced by some of the Middle East countries and Singapore.

The entire thing is controlled by black money, the real estate mafia and they are dealing with one of the most beautiful river fronts and highly fertile land.

The question everyone asks is how can you model the capital of an agrarian state like Andhra on an urban city like Singapore?

This is the question I have also been asking. What they say is that agriculture is a low occupation and only the poor will do it. Their argument is that the well-to-do, respectable, people live in cities and they need racecourses, casinos and malls.

It seems they drink only whiskey and they don't need food to eat!

It is an unpardonable sin to build a city on the banks of a river!

What were the findings of your fact-finding team?

The National Alliance of People's Movements finds that there is no legal sanctity to the approach taken by the government on land-pooling.

The farmers should disregard the threats that their lands will be forcefully taken if they do not agree to land-pooling.

We call on the AP government to completely revamp their misguided approach to the capital development and put up their plans transparently for a public debate and follow the due process of law.

Rather than serving the real estate mafia and big businesspersons, the government should proceed in a manner that serves the interests of all local people including the majority of residents who are not land-owners.

In the last one month, they have enacted an Act to send police to the villages to make farmers sign documents. What they are doing is illegal. We are observing all this very carefully.

What will be your course of action if Chief Minister Naidu proceeds with the idea?

We plan to hold public protests in the areas where land grabbing is taking place. There are three avenues legally. One, you can go to the Human Rights Commission as it affects livelihood and fundamental rights of the 30,000, 40,000 people.

Two, as it is a major violation of the Environmental Protection Act, we can go to the Green Tribunal.

Three, as it is a violation of the Constitution of India and Land Acquisition Act, we can go to the high court and the Supreme Court.

A group of architects and town planners are preparing an alternate scheme also.

You said, the decision to go ahead with the project was taken without taking the opinion of the public. How important is it to have a public debate on such issues?

Firstly, I feel this project should not be discussed at all in any public forum. The Sivaramakrishnan Committee report says such a project is not needed. Why can't the government adhere to that? Why didn't they go for a detailed study?

A need analysis study should be followed by a detailed project report, environmental and social impact assessment and a master plan; all in consultation with people. Even for smaller projects, it is done.

They are telling a lie that all this is needed only if there is land acquisition. It is nonsense.

Only a coterie of ministers and officials -- not even the entire TDP (Telugu Desam Party) members -- are under the orders of black money, the real estate mafia.

You were involved in planning Chandigarh...

Chandigarh has 15,000 acres and is a low rise, low density, wide spread city with a population of 11 lakhs (1.1 million). Naidu says with technology, he can plan a high-rise, high density city.

In an administrative capital, there will not be more than 2, 3 lakh (200,000 to 300,000) people. Assuming there are 10 lakhs (1 million

I am okay with building an administrative capital when you have a new state, but who will go to the new city? Only the 25,000 to 30,000 government employees.

Most of the families will stay back in Hyderabad itself because of the facilities available. Think of how long it took for Chandigarh to be a full-fledged city? 25 years.

What would be your advice to Naidu if he wants to build a world class capital for Andhra?

I have no advice for him. He doesn't need any advice, he has said bluntly.

Image: The Vijayawada Railway Station. Photograph: MyVijayawada/Wikimedia Commons.

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