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‘Fertile land forcibly acquired from farmers for Andhra Pradesh’s new capital’

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Photo: crda.ap.gov.in/
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By Sapan Kapoor

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today laid the foundation stone of Amaravati, the new capital of divided Andhra Pradesh amidst serious allegations that more than 30,000 acres of fertile agricultural land has been forcibly acquired from the state’s poor farmers for this purpose.

Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has promised that Amaravati will be a world-class and ‘people’s capital’. While the government of Singapore has prepared a masterplan for the capital, Naidu is seeking Japan’s partnership in building the city.

The state government claims that farmers have voluntarily donated over 30,000 acres of land for the building the capital. Therefore, some of the farmers were also felicitated at the foundation stone laying ceremony.

However, that is only half of the story. Concerned citizens, farmers and civil society activists unhappy and distraught about the manner in which land has been literally usurped for the capital have been running pillar to post, writing letters to powers-that-be and moving courts of law claiming that the state government has violated environmental norms, exposing the criminal nexus between the government and real estate developers.

EAS Sarma, former Secretary, Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, government of India, who is now an activist, in an exclusive interview told NewsGram that rules were not followed while acquiring fertile agricultural land and wetlands for the new capital – nearly 40% of the total area of 33,000 acres – where some 100 varieties of grains, vegetables and fruits are cultivated.

Furthermore, in a letter dated October 11, 2015 to Mr Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  Sarma alleged that the Andhra Pradesh government was violating an interim order issued on October 10 by the National Green Tribunal restraining it from going ahead with the new city project until it obtains statutory environmental clearances.

“The capital city project, as being thought of by Shri Chandrababu Naidu, will disrupt agriculture over large stretches of fertile land, adversely affect the lives of lakhs of farmers, agricultural workers, artisans and agri-based economy, like never before. The project is yet to be subject to a statutory environment impact appraisal.”

Sarma added: “The National Green Tribunal (NGT), in an interim order dated 10-10-2015, appears to have expressed concern at the fact that the State authorities are yet to survey the area and assess its agricultural resources and directed them not to proceed with any activity that is likely to disturb agriculture and the local environment. It is ironic that the Chief Minister is more eager to invite foreign dignataries to the inaugural function than trying to find out the value of the agricultural resources and human capital that will be foregone as a result of the project.

“Against this background, it will be highly imprudent on the part of the PM to agree to affix his stamp of approval for the project by laying the foundation stone, as such an act is likely to make a mockery of the law of the land and its statutory institutions, especially at a time when India is pronouncing to the world its resolve to join hands in poptecting the environment.”

Sarma told NewsGram that Under Section 6 of the AP Reorganisation Act, the Union Home Ministry appointed the Sivaramakrishnan Committee to suggest alternate locations that minimise disruption to agriculture and environment, cause least displacement of people, which is least expensive. The State summarily rejected the report and unilaterally decided to locate the capital in the Guntur region.

“Apparently, it is a statutory violation,” he said.

Moreover, according to Sarma, the Capital City Project occupies more than 30,000 acres of fertile agricultural land. There are 30 to 40 thousand farmers, agricultural workers, artisans dependent on this land. More than 120 different kinds of crops are raised over these lands. Diversion of this land for constructing buildings for a capital city will destroy agriculture and adversely impact food security.

The project involves several thousands of crores of rupees of expenditure. AP’s budget is already stressed and assistance from the Centre cannot be significant. The expenditure on the project has increased at every stage. It appears that a large portion of the capital land is subject to floods and its level needs to be raised. To provide water for the new city, a barrage may have to be constructed on River Krishna, he added.

Sarma accused the State of blatantly committing multiple statutory violations in hurrying through with the project. In addition to violating Section 6 of the AP Reorganisation Act, in the absence of a formal environment appraisal and clearance, it is a violation of the Environment (Protection) Act. As per a Supreme Court order of 2006, no land should be acquired prior to statutory environment clearance.

There are forests within the area which have been flattened, violating the Forest (Conservation) act. There are wetlands which attract the Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules and they have been violated in the absence of any clearance from the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority.

In the absence of a public hearing on the basis of a Social Impact Assessment, the 2013 land acquisition law stands violated, he alleged.

The tiller of the soil, Sarma said, has nothing in his/her hands as of now and he is forced to live in false hopes.

“There have been multiple land registrations which, if investigated, will reveal the facts. It is estimated that more than Rs 15,000 crores have already been money-laundered… The procedure prescribed in AP Agricultural Lands (Conversion to Non-Agricultural Purposes) Act, as upheld by the AP High Court has also been violated.”

Sarma further alleged, “The entire drama of the capital city project is being carefully orchestrated by a coterie within the State Cabinet and a few close party workers… Good governance cannot come by setting up air-conditioned concrete buildings. What is urgently called for is transparency in the functioning of the government, a competitive environment, public accountability and devolution of authority.”

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Fall Of The Currency And Increase In Oil Prices: India ‘s Turmoil

The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars.

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India
Rajesh Kumar, left, shares a ride to work with another employee, Dilip Swain, right, as higher petrol prices in India begin to be felt in people's pocketbooks.VOA

The fall of the currency of India to record lows and rising global oil prices have raised worries that the world’s fastest growing economy faces headwinds that could hurt the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in next year’s general elections.

From people filling fuel at gas stations to thousands of students heading out to study overseas, the impact of the slumping rupee is sparking discontent.

Having plunged by about 12 percent against the dollar this year, the rupee is one of Asia’s worst faring currencies, and as in other countries, the slide has accelerated since the crash of the Turkish lira.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in last few months, dollar has strengthened against almost every currency,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he tried to send out reassuring signals that India’s economy is on track.

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The rupee has plunged by about 12 percent this year raising fears of spiraling inflation. VOA

The rupee’s sharp depreciation comes at a time when the economy had recovered from a slowdown and surged to a two-year high in the quarter that ended in June. Forecasts put growth for this year at 7.5 percent.

Economy will slow

But economists warn this momentum will be difficult to sustain as the tumbling rupee, along with rising crude oil prices, takes a toll on growth. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, gets almost 80 percent of its fuel needs overseas.

“The government needs to mellow down on growth aspirations,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “The growth needs to come down to a little less than 7 percent.”

Even as the government faces the prospect of a slowing economy, it is under pressure to lower taxes on gas and diesel to bring down the sharp rise in prices. Fuel is one of the most heavily taxed items in India, with rates as high as nearly 50 percent. Prices vary from state to state, but they have gone up by about 14 percent this year.

Hoping to cash in on the growing disaffection over the surge in fuel prices and the sliding rupee, opposition parties led nationwide protests that shutdown offices and schools in several cities this week.

India
Discontent with spiraling fuel prices poses a challenge to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of general elections next year. VOA

The government dismissed the protests, saying that although people faced momentary difficulties, they understood they were because of factors beyond its control.

Political analysts are not so sure, pointing out that fuel prices are a politically sensitive issue in India and usually result in a spike in inflation.

“Anger is rising, there is resentment,” said Satish Misra at the Observer Research Foundation, warning the ruling party will face a backlash “Obviously that is going to have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Warnings from economists

Among those who are upset with the high fuel prices is Rajesh Kumar, who commutes 30 kilometers to the advertising agency where he works. Hit by the higher prices that eat into his income, he has started sharing the ride with another employee.

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Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“I have given up the idea of buying another car,” he said despondently. “I will not be able to afford the cost of running it.”

Economists however have warned the government against giving in to populist pressures ahead of a series of state polls later this year and general elections around April next year. They say lowering taxes on fuel or taking measures to prop up the currency will strain the country’s finances and hurt the economy in the long run.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“One needs to be more careful and vigilant,” Bhanumurthy said. “It is easy for India to stay with low growth than experiencing the high deficit.”

But there is also some good news for the Indian economy. The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars. (VOA)